Portal:Law

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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 that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has been defined both as "the science of justice" and "the art of justice". Law 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.

The adjudication of the law is generally divided into two main areas. Criminal law deals with conduct that is considered harmful to social order and in which the guilty party may be imprisoned or fined. Civil law (not to be confused with civil law jurisdictions above) deals with the resolution of lawsuits (disputes) between individuals and/or organizations.

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 Saxbe

The Saxbe fix /ˈsæks.b/, or salary rollback, is a mechanism by which the President of the United States, in appointing a current or former member of the United States Congress whose elected term has not yet expired, can avoid the restriction of the United States Constitution's Ineligibility Clause. That clause prohibits the President from appointing a current or former member of Congress to a civil office position that was created, or to a civil office position for which the pay or benefits (collectively, "emoluments") were increased, during the term for which that member was elected until the term has expired. The rollback, first implemented by an Act of Congress in 1909, reverts the emoluments of the office to the amount they were when that member began his or her elected term.

To prevent ethical conflicts, James Madison proposed language at the Constitutional Convention that was adopted as the Ineligibility Clause after debate and modification by other Founding Fathers. Historically, a number of approaches have been taken to circumvent or adhere to the restrictions; these have included choosing another nominee, allowing the desired nominee's elected term of office to expire, ignoring the clause entirely, or reducing the offending emoluments to the level prior to when the nominee took office. Although Congress passed the mechanism reducing emoluments in 1909, the procedure was named "Saxbe fix" after Senator William Saxbe, who was confirmed as Attorney General in 1973 after Congress reduced the office's salary to the level it had been before Saxbe's term commenced. The Saxbe fix has subsequently become relevant as a successful—though not universally accepted—solution for appointments by presidents of both parties of sitting members of the United States Congress to the United States Cabinet. Members of Congress have been appointed to federal judgeships without any fix being enacted; court challenges to such appointments have failed. (more...)

Selected biography

Claud Schuster, 1st Baron Schuster, GCB, CVO, KC (22 August 1869 – 28 June 1956) was a British barrister and civil servant noted for his long tenure as Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Office. Schuster studied history at New College, Oxford, after which he joined the Inner Temple with the aim of becoming a barrister; he was called to the Bar in 1895. Practising in Liverpool, Schuster was not noted as a particularly successful barrister, and he joined Her Majesty's Civil Service in 1899 as secretary to the Chief Commissioner of the Local Government Act Commission.

After serving as secretary to several more commissions, he was made Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Office in 1915. Schuster served in this position for 29 years under ten different Lord Chancellors, and became "one of the most influential Permanent Secretaries of the 20th century". His influence led to criticism and suspicions that he was a "power behind the throne", which culminated in a verbal attack by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Hewart in 1934 during a session of the House of Lords. Schuster retired in 1944 and was made Baron Schuster. Despite being officially retired he continued to work in government circles, such as with the Allied Commission for Austria and by using his seat in the House of Lords as a way to directly criticise legislation. (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:


A scan of an old document

The Petition of Right is a major English constitutional document that sets out specific liberties of the subject that the king is prohibited from infringing. Passed on 7 June 1628, the Petition contains restrictions on non-Parliamentary taxation, forced billeting of soldiers, imprisonment without cause, and restricts the use of martial law. Following disputes between Parliament and King Charles I over the execution of the Thirty Years' War, Parliament refused to grant subsidies to support the war effort, leading to Charles gathering "forced loans" without Parliamentary approval and arbitrarily imprisoning those who refused to pay. Moreover, the war footing of the nation led to the forced billeting of soldiers within the homes of private citizens, and the declaration of martial law over large swathes of the country.

In response, the House of Commons prepared a set of four Resolutions, decrying these actions and restating the validity of Magna Carta and the legal requirement of habeas corpus. A committee under Sir Edward Coke drafted the Petition of Right, which was ratified by both Houses of Parliament on the 26th and 27th of May. The Petition was accepted by the King on 2 June and full ratified on 7 June. (more...)


Did you know...

  • ... that, in the cases of Klayman v. Obama and ACLU v. Clapper, US district courts issued conflicting rulings on the constitutionality of bulk data collection by the US government?
  • ... that in 2011, Nitehawk Cinema successfully lobbied to overturn a Prohibition-era liquor law that prevented movie theaters in New York from serving alcohol?

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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:


A caricature of William Ballantine stands in court dress, with particular focus given to his bewigged and abnormally large head.

The Eastbourne manslaughter was an 1860 legal case in Eastbourne, England, concerning the death of 15-year-old Reginald Cancellor (some sources give his name as Chancellor and his age as 13 or 14) at the hands of his teacher, Thomas Hopley. Hopley used corporal punishment with the stated intention of overcoming what he perceived as stubbornness on Cancellor's part, but instead beat the boy to death.

An inquest into Cancellor's death began when his brother requested an autopsy. As a result of the inquest Hopley was arrested and charged with manslaughter. He was found guilty at trial and sentenced to four years in prison, although he insisted that his actions were justifiable and that he was not guilty of any crime. The trial was sensationalised by the Victorian press and incited debate over the use of corporal punishment in schools. After Hopley's release and subsequent divorce trial, he largely disappeared from the public record. The case became an important legal precedent in the United Kingdom for discussions of corporal punishment in schools and reasonable limits on discipline. (more...)


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