Portal:Law

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The Law Portal

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

Law is a set of rules that are created and are enforceable by 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 as 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 jurisdictions, 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 may make binding case law through precedent, although on occasion this may be overturned by a higher court or the legislature. Historically, religious law has influenced secular matters and is, as of the 21st century, still in use 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.

The scope of law 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. (Full article...)

Selected article

In English law, secret trusts are a class of trust defined as an arrangement between a testator and a trustee, made to come into force after death, that aims to benefit a person without having been written in a formal will. The property is given to the trustee in the will, and he would then be expected to pass it on to the real beneficiary. For these to be valid, the person seeking to enforce the trust must prove that the testator intended to form a trust, that this intention was communicated to the trustee, and that the trustee accepted his office. There are two types of secret trust — fully secret and half-secret. A fully secret trust is one with no mention in the will whatsoever. In the case of a half-secret trust, the face of the will names the trustee as trustee, but does not give the trust's terms, including the beneficiary. The most important difference lies in communication of the trust: the terms of a half-secret trust must be communicated to the trustee before the execution of the will, whereas in the case of a fully secret trust the terms may be communicated after the execution of the will, as long as this is before the testator's death.

Secret trusts do not comply with the formality requirements (such as witnessing) laid down in the Wills Act 1837. Despite this, the courts have chosen to uphold them as valid. Although various justifications have been given for this, they are generally categorised as either based on preventing fraud, or as regarding secret trusts as outside (dehors) the operation of the Wills Act. The first is considered the traditional approach – if the courts do not recognise secret trusts, the trustee given the property in the will would be able to keep it for himself, committing fraud. The fraud theory utilises the equitable maxim that "equity will not allow a statute to be used as a cloak for fraud". A more modern view is that secret trusts exist outside the will altogether, and thus do not have to comply with it. Accepting this theory would undermine the operation of the Wills Act, since the Wills Act is designed to cover all testamentary dispositions. To avoid this problem, one approach has been to reclassify the secret trust as inter vivos ("between the living") but this creates other problems. There have also been attempts to conclude that half-secret trusts rest on a different basis to fully secret trusts, although this has been disapproved by the House of Lords, primarily on practical grounds. (Full article...)

Selected biography

A black and white photograph of Warren G. Magnuson

Warren Grant "Maggie" Magnuson (April 12, 1905 – May 20, 1989) was an American lawyer and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as a U.S. Representative (1937–1944) and a U.S. Senator (1944–1981) from Washington. He served over 36 years in the Senate, and was the most senior member of the body during his final two years in office. He earned a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Washington School of Law in 1929, and became active in politics in 1928, volunteering for A. Scott Bullitt for governor and Al Smith for president. In 1929, Magnuson was admitted to the bar and joined the law office of Judge Samuel Stern in Seattle. He served as special prosecutor for King County in 1932, investigating official misconduct. He was a leading supporter of repealing state Prohibition laws and establishing the state Liquor Control Board. From 1933 to 1934, Magnuson served as a member of the Washington House of Representatives from the Seattle-based 37th Legislative District. As a state legislator, he sponsored the first unemployment compensation bill in the nation. He was a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1933. He briefly served as Assistant United States District Attorney before being elected prosecuting attorney of King County, serving from 1934 to 1936.

Magnuson was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1936, filling a vacancy caused by the sudden death of fellow Democrat Marion Zioncheck on August 7, 1936. In 1937, along with senators Homer Bone and Matthew Neely, he introduced the National Cancer Institute Act, which was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 5 of that year. Magnuson won re-election in 1938, 1940, and 1942. In 1944, he successfully ran for the U.S. Senate. He was appointed on December 14, 1944, to fill the vacancy created by Homer Bone's appointment to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, thus resigning from the House and starting his service in the Senate a month early. He was re-elected in 1950, 1956, 1962, 1968, and 1974. He served on the Senate Commerce Committee throughout his tenure in the Senate, and the Senate Appropriations Committee during his final term.

Selected 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...)


A black and white photograph of Clement Attlee

The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 are two Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which form part of the constitution of the United Kingdom. Section 2(2) of the Parliament Act 1949 provides that the two Acts are to be construed as one.

The Parliament Act 1911 (1 & 2 Geo. 5. c. 13) asserted the supremacy of the House of Commons by limiting the legislation-blocking powers of the House of Lords (the suspensory veto). Provided the provisions of the Act are met, legislation can be passed without the approval of the House of Lords. Additionally, the 1911 Act amended the Septennial Act 1716 to reduce the maximum life of a Parliament from seven years to five years. The Parliament Act 1911 was amended by the Parliament Act 1949 (12, 13 & 14 Geo. 6. c. 103), which further limited the power of the Lords by reducing the time that they could delay bills, from two years to one.

The Parliament Acts have been used to pass legislation against the wishes of the House of Lords on 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 rejected in 2005 when members of the Countryside Alliance unsuccessfully challenged the validity of the Hunting Act 2004, which had been passed under the auspices of the Act. In October 2005, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords dismissed the Alliance's appeal against this decision, with an unusually large panel of nine Law Lords (out of then-existing twelve) holding that the 1949 Act was a valid Act of Parliament. (Full article...)

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Selected case

Case law, also used interchangeably with common law, is law that is based on precedents, that is the judicial decisions from previous cases, rather than law based on constitutions, statutes, or regulations. Case law uses the detailed facts of a legal case that have been resolved by courts or similar tribunals. 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, drawing on established judicial authority to formulate their positions. (Full article...)


A painting of some rocks in the middle of the sea

The Pedra Branca dispute was a territorial dispute between Singapore and Malaysia over several islets at the eastern entrance to the Singapore Strait, namely Pedra Branca (previously called Pulau Batu Puteh and now Batu Puteh by Malaysia), Middle Rocks and South Ledge. The dispute began in 1979 and was largely resolved by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2008, which opined that Pedra Branca belonged to Singapore and Middle Rocks belonged to Malaysia. Sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the state in the territorial waters of which it is located.

In early 1980, Singapore lodged a formal protest with Malaysia in response to a map published by Malaysia in 1979 claiming Pedra Branca. In 1989 Singapore proposed submitting the dispute to the ICJ. Malaysia agreed to this in 1994. In 1993, Singapore also claimed the nearby islets Middle Rocks and South Ledge. In 1998 the two countries agreed on the text of a Special Agreement that was needed to submit the dispute to the ICJ. The Special Agreement was signed in February 2003, and the ICJ formally notified of the Agreement in July that year. The hearing before the ICJ was held over three weeks in November 2007 under the name Sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge (Malaysia v. Singapore).

On 23 May 2008, the Court ruled that Pedra Branca is under Singapore's sovereignty, while Middle Rocks belongs to Malaysia. As regards South Ledge, the Court noted that it falls within the apparently overlapping territorial waters generated by mainland Malaysia, Pedra Branca and Middle Rocks. As it is a maritime feature visible only at low tide, it belongs to the state in the territorial waters of which it is located. Malaysia and Singapore have established what they have named the Joint Technical Committee to delimit the maritime boundary in the area around Pedra Branca and Middle Rocks, and to determine the ownership of South Ledge. (Full article...)

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