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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 modern photograph of Gray's Inn Square

The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn, commonly known as Gray's Inn, is one of the four Inns of Court (professional associations for barristers and judges) in London. To be called to the bar and practise as a barrister in England and Wales, a person must belong to one of these Inns. Located at the intersection of High Holborn and Gray's Inn Road in Central London, the Inn is both a professional body and a provider of office accommodation (chambers) for many barristers. It is ruled by a governing council called "Pension", made up of the Masters of the Bench (or "Benchers"), and led by the Treasurer, who is elected to serve a one-year term. The Inn is known for its gardens, or Walks, which have existed since at least 1597.

Gray's Inn does not claim a specific foundation date; there is a tradition that none of the Inns of Court claims to be any older than the others. Law clerks and their apprentices have been established on the present site since at least 1370, with records dating from 1381. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Inn grew steadily with great prestige, reaching its pinnacle during the reign of Elizabeth I. The Inn was home to many important barristers and politicians, most notably Francis Bacon, and counted Elizabeth herself as a patron. Thanks to the efforts of prominent members such as William Cecil and Gilbert Gerard, Gray's Inn became the largest of the four by number, with over 200 barristers recorded as members. During this period, the Inn became noted for the masques and revels that it threw, and William Shakespeare is believed to have first performed The Comedy of Errors there. (more...)

Selected biography

William Garrow sits, manuscript in his right hand and seated to the right but with his head facing forward. He has short curly hair and large eyes and is wearing a coat and a Regency style neckcloth.

Sir William Garrow KC, PC, FRS (13 April 1760 – 24 September 1840) was a British barrister, politician and judge known for his indirect reform of the advocacy system, which helped usher in the adversarial court system used in most common law nations today. He introduced the phrase "presumed innocent until proven guilty", insisting that defendants' accusers and their evidence be thoroughly tested in court.

Garrow is best known for his criminal defence work, which, through the example he set with his aggressive defence of clients, helped establish the modern adversarial system in use in the United Kingdom, the United States, and other former British colonies. Garrow is also known for his impact on the rules of evidence, leading to the best evidence rule. His work was cited as recently as 1982 in the Supreme Court of Canada and 2006 in the Irish Court of Criminal Appeal. (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:


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Hawaii House Bill 444 was a 2009 bill of the Hawaii State Legislature, passed in April 2010 and vetoed by Governor of Hawaii Linda Lingle, that would have legalized civil unions for couples in the state of Hawaii. Its legislative process was accompanied by controversy over the bill's content and effects and rallies were held by supporters and opponents.

The bill passed the Hawaii House of Representatives in February 2009 in a form specific to same-sex couples, was passed in amended form including opposite-sex couples by the Hawaii Senate in May 2009, and was carried over in the 2010 session, where it passed the Senate again in January 2010 with a veto-proof majority. The bill moved back to the House but was indefinitely postponed by a voice vote initiated by House Speaker Calvin Say, requiring a vote of two-thirds of Representatives to be taken up again in 2010, and was considered dead. In April 2010, on the last day of the legislative session, the House suspended the rules on the Senate bill and passed it with a majority, sending the bill to Governor Linda Lingle, who vetoed it in July 2010. (more...)


Did you know...

Red dresses representing missing and murdered Indigenous women.

  • ... that the gynaecologist Margaret Puxon, who started studying law to prevent boredom while on maternity leave, eventually became a barrister?

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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 and fill gaps to set rules 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:


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Al-Kateb v Godwin was a decision of the High Court of Australia, which ruled on 6 August 2004 that the indefinite detention of a stateless person was lawful. The case concerned Ahmed Al-Kateb, a Palestinian man born in Kuwait, who moved to Australia in 2000 and applied for a temporary protection visa. The Commonwealth Minister for Immigration's decision to refuse the application was upheld by the Refugee Review Tribunal and the Federal Court. In 2002, Al-Kateb declared that he wished to return to Kuwait or Gaza. However, since no country would accept Al-Kateb, he was declared stateless and detained under the policy of mandatory detention. The two main issues considered by the High Court were whether the Migration Act 1958 (the legislation governing immigration to Australia) permitted a person in Al-Kateb's situation to be detained indefinitely, and if so, whether this was permissible under the Constitution of Australia. A majority of the court decided that the Act did allow indefinite detention, and that the Act was not unconstitutional. The controversy surrounding the outcome of the case resulted in a review of the circumstances of twenty-four stateless people in immigration detention. In 2007, nine of these people, including Al-Kateb, were granted bridging visas and allowed to enter the community. (more...)


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