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Portal:Law

The Law Portal

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

Law is commonly understood as a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate conduct, although its precise definition is 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 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.

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 case law 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.

Selected article

A black and white photograph of Nikolai Krylenko

The Ministry of Justice of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (Russian: Министерство юстиции СССР, Ministerstvo Yustitsii SSSR), formed on 15 March 1946, was one of the most important government offices in the Soviet Union. It was formerly (until 1946) known as the People's Commissariat for Justice (Russian: Народный комиссариат юстиции, Narodniy Komissariat Yustitsi'i) abbreviated as Наркомюст (Narkomiust). The Ministry, at the All-Union (USSR-wide) level, was established on 6 July 1923, after the signing of the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR, and was in turn based upon the People's Commissariat for Justice of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) formed in 1917. The Ministry was led by the Minister of Justice, prior to 1946 a Commissar, who was nominated by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers and confirmed by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, and was a member of the Council of Ministers.

The Ministry of Justice was responsible for courts, prisons, and probations. Further responsibilities included criminal justice policy, sentencing policy, and prevention of re-offending in the USSR. The Ministry was organised into All-Union and Union departments. The All-Union level ministries were divided into separate organisations in the Republican, Autonomous Oblast, and provincial level. The leadership of the Ministry of Justice came from notable Soviet law organisations from around the country. (more...)

Selected biography

Alfred ThompsonTomDenning, Baron Denning, OM, PC, DL (23 January 1899 – 5 March 1999) was an English lawyer and judge. He was called to the bar of England and Wales in 1923, and became a King's Counsel in 1938. Denning became a judge in 1944 with an appointment to the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice, and transferred to the King's Bench Division in 1945. He was made a Lord Justice of Appeal in 1948 after less than five years in the High Court. He became a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 1957 and after five years in the House of Lords returned to the Court of Appeal as Master of the Rolls in 1962, a position he held for twenty years. In retirement he wrote several books and continued to offer opinions on the state of the common law through his writing and his position in the House of Lords.

Margaret Thatcher said that Denning was “probably the greatest English judge of modern times”. Mark Garnett and Richard Weight argue that he was a conservative Christian who "remained popular with morally conservative Britons who were dismayed at the postwar rise in crime and who, like him, believed that the duties of the individual were being forgotten in the clamour for rights. He had a more punitive than redemptive view of criminal justice, as a result of which he was a vocal supporter of corporal and capital punishment." Though he changed his stance on capital punishment in later life.

Denning was one of the most publicly known judges thanks to his report on the Profumo affair. He was noted for his bold judgments running counter to the law at the time. During his 38-year career as a judge he made large changes to the common law, particularly while in the Court of Appeal, and although many of his decisions were overturned by the House of Lords several of them were confirmed by Parliament, which passed statutes in line with his judgments. Although appreciated for his role as 'the people's judge' and his support for the individual, Denning was also controversial for his campaign against the common law principle of precedent, and for comments he made regarding the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, and also as Master of the Rolls for his conflict with the House of Lords. (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. Learn more about statutes...

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


The illustration depicts Edward II, seated on a throne and with a sceptre in his left hand, receiving his crown. His left hand is raised to the crown already on his head.

The Ordinances of 1311 were a series of regulations imposed upon King Edward II by the peerage and clergy of the Kingdom of England to restrict the power of the king.[a] The twenty-one signatories of the Ordinances are referred to as the Lords Ordainers, or simply the Ordainers.[b] English setbacks in the Scottish war, combined with perceived extortionate royal fiscal policies, set the background for the writing of the Ordinances in which the administrative prerogatives of the king were largely appropriated by a baronial council. The Ordinances reflect the Provisions of Oxford and the Provisions of Westminster from the late 1250s, but unlike the Provisions, the Ordinances featured a new concern with fiscal reform, specifically redirecting revenues from the king's household to the exchequer.

Just as instrumental to their conception were other issues, particularly discontent with the king's favourite, Piers Gaveston, whom the barons subsequently banished from the realm. Edward II accepted the Ordinances only under coercion, and a long struggle for their repeal ensued that did not end until Earl Thomas of Lancaster, the leader of the Ordainers, was executed in 1322. (more...)


Did you know...

Photographs of a woman standing at a podium and gesturing.

  • ... that Dutch physician Aletta Jacobs legal challenge to be added to the Amsterdam electoral rolls backfired, leading to a constitutional amendment granting voting rights only to men?
  • ... that when Henry McCardie was a barrister, he often worked so late that his chambers were nicknamed "the lighthouse", as there was light coming from the windows?
  • ... that the diaries of James Humphreys, the "Emperor of Porn", were used to convict 13 policemen of accepting his bribes?

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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.

Learn more about case law...

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


Image of the Chief Justice of India, who presided over the proceeding.

Government of NCT of Delhi versus Union of India & Another [C. A. No. 2357 of 2017] is a civil appeal heard before the Supreme Court of India by a five-judge constitution bench of the court. The case was filed as an appeal to an August 2016 verdict of the Delhi High Court that ruled that the lieutenant governor of Delhi exercised "complete control of all matters regarding National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi", and was heard by the supreme court in November and December 2017. The supreme court pronounced its judgment in July 2018; it said the lieutenant governor of Delhi had no independent decision-making powers and was bound to follow the "aid and advice" of the Delhi chief-minister-headed council of ministers of the Government of Delhi on all matters except those pertaining to police, public order and land. The verdict was positively received almost unanimously by politicians from multiple parties. (more...)


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