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The Law Portal

Lady Justice, often used as a personification of the law, holding a sword in one scales in the other.

Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior, with its precise definition a matter of longstanding debate. It has been variously described as a science and the art of justice. State-enforced laws can be made by a group legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent, usually in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals may create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that adopt alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation. The creation of laws themselves may be influenced by a constitution, written or tacit, and the rights encoded therein. The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people.

Legal systems vary between countries, with their differences analysed in comparative law. In civil law jurisdictions, a legislature or other central body codifies and consolidates the law. In common law systems, judges make binding case law through precedent, although on occasion this may be overturned by a higher court or the legislature. Historically, religious law influenced secular matters, and is still used in some religious communities. Sharia law based on Islamic principles is used as the primary legal system in several countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Law's scope can be divided into two domains. Public law concerns government and society, including constitutional law, administrative law, and criminal law. Private law deals with legal disputes between individuals and/or organisations in areas such as contracts, property, torts/delicts and commercial law. This distinction is stronger in civil law countries, particularly those with a separate system of administrative courts; by contrast, the public-private law divide is less pronounced in common law jurisdictions.

Law provides a source of scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. Law also raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness, and justice. (Full article...)

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An elderly man with receding white hair and large spectacles, Andrei Sakharov, is being interviewed. A tape recorder is held in front of his mouth by a hand from the bottom of the photograph. Sakharov is wearing a suit with a blue and brown striped tie.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, commonly known as the Sakharov Prize, honours individuals and groups of people who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought. Named after Russian scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, the prize was established in December 1988 by the European Parliament. A shortlist of nominees is drawn up annually by the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs and Committee on Development. The MEPs who make up those committees then select a shortlist in September. Thereafter, the final choice is given to The European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents (President and political group’s leaders) and the laureate's name is announced late in October. The prize is awarded in a ceremony at the Parliament’s Strasbourg hemicycle (round chamber) in December. The prize includes a monetary award of €50,000.

The first prize was awarded jointly to South African Nelson Mandela and Russian Anatoly Marchenko. The 1990 award was given to Aung San Suu Kyi, but she could not receive it until 2013 as a result of her political imprisonment in Burma. The prize has also been awarded to organisations, the first being the Argentine Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in 1992. Five Sakharov laureates were subsequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Malala Yousafzai, Denis Mukwege, and Nadia Murad. (Full article...) (more...)

Selected biography

A large stone castle, with imposing towers either side of the gateway, is partly obscured by trees on the green in front of the building. A road leads up to the castle, at the end of which are parked six cars outside the high wooden doors.

The Samlesbury witches were three women from the Lancashire village of Samlesbury – Jane Southworth, Jennet Bierley, and Ellen Bierley – accused by a 14-year-old girl, Grace Sowerbutts, of practising witchcraft. Their trial at Lancaster Assizes in England on 19 August 1612 was one in a series of witch trials held there over two days, among the most famous in English history. The trials were unusual for England at that time in two respects: Thomas Potts, the clerk to the court, published the proceedings in his The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster; and the number of the accused found guilty and hanged was unusually high, ten at Lancaster and another at York. All three of the Samlesbury women were acquitted.

The charges against the women included child murder and cannibalism. In contrast, the others tried at the same assizes, who included the Pendle witches, were accused of maleficium – causing harm by witchcraft. The case against the three women collapsed "spectacularly" when the chief prosecution witness, Grace Sowerbutts, was exposed by the trial judge to be "the perjuring tool of a Catholic priest". (Full article...) (more...)

What is a statute?

A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs the legal entities of a city, state, or country by way of consent. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. Statutes are rules made by legislative bodies; they are distinguished from case law or precedent, which is decided by courts, and regulations issued by government agencies. (Full article...) Learn more about statutes...

Following is an example of a noted statute or comparable written law:


The cover of the Basic Law, published by the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau

The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China is a national law of China that serves as the de facto constitution of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). Comprising nine chapters, 160 articles and three annexes, the Basic Law was enacted under the Constitution of China to implement the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

The Basic Law was adopted by the National People's Congress on 4 April 1990 and came into effect on 1 July 1997 in Hong Kong when the sovereignty over Hong Kong was transferred from the United Kingdom to China. It replaced Hong Kong's colonial constitution of the Letters Patent and the Royal Instructions. (Full article...) (more...)


Did you know...

Red dresses representing missing and murdered Indigenous women.

  • ... that after the death of Olaseni Lewis, who was restrained by 11 police officers, UK law was changed to require police to wear body cameras when dealing with vulnerable people?

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What is case law?

Case law is the collection of past legal decisions written by courts and similar tribunals in the course of deciding cases, in which the law was analyzed using these cases to resolve ambiguities for deciding current cases. These past decisions are called "case law", or precedent. Stare decisis—a Latin phrase meaning "let the decision stand"—is the principle by which judges are bound to such past decisions. These judicial interpretations are distinguished from statutory law, which are codes enacted by legislative bodies, and regulatory law, which are established by executive agencies based on statutes. In some jurisdictions, case law can be applied to ongoing adjudication; for example, criminal proceedings or family law.

In common law countries (including the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), the term case law is a near-exact synonym for common law. It is used for judicial decisions of selected appellate courts, courts of first instance, agency tribunals, and other bodies discharging adjudicatory functions. (Full article...)

Learn more about case law...

For examples of noted cases, see Lists of case law. Following is one example of such a noted case:



Dietrich v The Queen is an important legal case decided in the High Court of Australia on 13 November 1992, stemming from an incident that took place on 17 December 1986. It concerned the nature of the right to a fair trial and under what circumstances indigent defendants (who cannot afford legal representation) should be provided with legal aid by the state. The case determined that although there is no absolute right to have publicly funded counsel, a judge should grant any request for an adjournment or stay in most circumstances in which an accused is unrepresented. It is an important case in Australian criminal law and in Australian constitutional law since it is one of many cases in which some members of the High Court have found implied human rights in the Australian Constitution. (Full article...) (more...)


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