Portal:Law

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Introduction

Lady Justice, a goddess symbolising justice who bears a sword – symbolising the coercive power of a tribunal –, scales – representing an objective standard by which competing claims are weighed – and a blindfold indicating that justice should be impartial and meted out objectively, without fear or favor and regardless of money, wealth, power or identity.

Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Law is a system that regulates and ensures that individuals or a community adhere to the will of the state. State-enforced laws can be made by a collective legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or established by judges through precedent, normally in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that may elect to accept alternative arbitration to the normal court process. The formation 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.

A general distinction can be made between (a) civil law jurisdictions, in which a legislature or other central body codifies and consolidates their laws, and (b) common law systems, where judge-made precedent is accepted as binding law. Historically, religious laws played a significant role even in settling of secular matters, and is still used in some religious communities. Islamic Sharia law is the world's most widely used religious law, and is used as the primary legal system in some countries, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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A large stone building with 12 glazed arched windows at first floor level above six stone arches

The modern system of county courts in England and Wales was established by the County Courts Act 1846. The Act created 491 courts on 60 circuits; of these, 53 courts were in Wales and Monmouthshire (a Welsh county that had ambiguous status at the time and was sometimes treated as being in England). Since then, new courts have been opened in various locations, and 80 towns and cities in Wales have, or have had, county courts. As of 2012, there are 20 county courts in Wales. The courts in the other 60 locations have closed. Reasons for closure have included a decision that it was "inexpedient" to continue to provide a court, the volume of business no longer justifying a court, or the state of the building housing the court. The first closure was Fishguard, in 1856; the most recent closures are the county courts in Aberdare and Pontypool, which closed on 1 August 2011. (more...)

Selected biography

Sir Aubrey Melford Steed Stevenson PC (17 October 1902 – 26 December 1987) was an English barrister and later a High Court judge, whose judicial career was marked by his controversial conduct and outspoken views. One of his fellow judges, Sir Robin Dunn, described him as "the worst judge since the war".

Stevenson became a High Court judge in 1957, and acquired a reputation for the severity of his sentencing. He sentenced the Kray twins to life imprisonment in 1969, with a recommendation that they serve not less than 30 years each. In 1970 Stevenson passed long sentences on eight Cambridge University students who took part in the Garden House riot, and the following year gave Jake Prescott of the Angry Brigade 15 years for conspiracy.

After Dunn's verbal attack, several high-profile legal figures came to Stevenson's defence, among them fellow judge and biographer Lord Roskill, who pointed out that Stevenson could be merciful to those he perceived to be victims. Lord Devlin described Stevenson as the "last of the grand eccentrics". Stevenson retired from the bench in 1979 aged 76, and died at St Leonards in East Sussex on 26 December 1987. (more...)

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Jawaharlal Nehru at the Allahabad High Court

Selected case

A map of the Phelps and Gorham purchase

Seneca Nation of Indians v. Christy, 162 U.S. 283 (1896), was the first litigation of aboriginal title in the United States by a tribal plaintiff in the Supreme Court of the United States since Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), and the first such litigation by an indigenous plaintiff since Fellows v. Blacksmith (1857) and its companion case of New York ex rel. Cutler v. Dibble (1858). The New York courts held that the Phelps and Gorham Purchase did not violate the Nonintercourse Act, one of the provisions of which prohibits purchases of Indian lands without the approval of the federal government, and that (even if it did) the Seneca Nation of New York was barred by the state statute of limitations from challenging the transfer of title. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the merits of lower court ruling because of the adequate and independent state grounds doctrine.

Although the case has not been formally overruled, two Supreme Court decisions from the 1970s and 1980s have undone its effect by ruling that there is federal subject-matter jurisdiction for a federal common law cause of action for recovering possession based on the common law doctrine of aboriginal title. Moreover, the New York courts' interpretation of the Nonintercourse Act is no longer good law, with modern federal courts holding that only Congress can ratify a conveyance of aboriginal title, and only with a clear statement, rather than implicitly. (more...)

Selected statute

A black and white photograph of Clement Attlee

The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 are two Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Parliament Act 1911 asserted the supremacy of the House of Commons by limiting the legislation-blocking powers of the House of Lords. Provided the provisions of the Act are met, legislation can be passed without the approval of the House of Lords. The 1911 Act also amended the Septennial Act to reduce the maximum life of a Parliament from seven years to five. The first Parliament Act was amended by the Parliament Act 1949, passed when Clement Attlee (pictured) was Prime Minister. This further limited the power of the Lords by reducing the time that they could delay bills, from two years to one. The Parliament Acts (which are still in force) have been used to pass legislation against the wishes of the House of Lords on only seven occasions since 1911, including the passing of the Parliament Act 1949. Some constitutional lawyers had questioned the validity of the 1949 Act; these doubts were settled in 2005 when an unusually large panel of nine Law Lords ruled against a challenge by the Countryside Alliance to the validity of the Hunting Act 2004, which had been passed under the auspices of the Act. (more...)

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