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Law is a system of rules, usually enforced through a set of institutions. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a primary social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus ticket to trading on derivatives markets. Property law defines rights and obligations related to the transfer and title of personal (often referred to as chattel) and real property. Trust law applies to assets held for investment and financial security, while tort law allows claims for compensation if a person's rights or property are harmed. If the harm is criminalised in a statute, criminal law offers means by which the state can prosecute the perpetrator. Constitutional law provides a framework for the creation of law, the protection of human rights and the election of political representatives. Administrative law is used to review the decisions of government agencies, while international law governs affairs between sovereign states in activities ranging from trade to environmental regulation or military action. Writing in 350 BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle declared: "The rule of law is better than the rule of any individual."

Legal systems elaborate rights and responsibilities in a variety of ways. A general distinction can be made between civil law jurisdictions, which codify their laws, and common law systems, where judge made law is not consolidated. In some countries, religion informs the law. Law provides a rich source of scholarly inquiry, into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis or sociology. Law also raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness and justice. "In its majestic equality", said the author Anatole France in 1894, "the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread." In a typical democracy, the central institutions for interpreting and creating law are the three main branches of government, namely an impartial judiciary, a democratic legislature, and an accountable executive. To implement and enforce the law and provide services to the public, a government's bureaucracy, the military and police are vital. While all these organs of the state are creatures created and bound by law, an independent legal profession and a vibrant civil society inform and support their progress. (More…)

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Surrounded by Gothic architecture and enclosed in a pointed arch is a pair of wooden doors, the entrance to the court.

The system of county courts in England and Wales' dates back to the County Courts Act 1846, which received Royal Assent on 28 August 1846 and was brought into force on 15 March 1847. England and Wales (with the exception of the City of London, which was outside the scope of the Act) were divided into 60 circuits, with a total of 491 county courts within these circuits. The then Lord Chancellor, Lord Cottenham, wanted everyone to be within seven miles of a court, and the final scheme came close to that aim. One county court judge was appointed to each circuit, assisted by one or more registrars with some limited judicial powers, and would travel between the courts in his area as necessary, sitting in each court at least once a month. Few permanent courts were needed initially, given the infrequency of court hearings, and temporary accommodation such as a town hall would often be used where there was no existing courthouse for use. The judicial business of the county courts is now carried out by circuit judges (a term introduced by the Courts Act 1971) and district judges (as the post of registrar was renamed by section 74 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990). As at 1 April 2010, there are 680 circuit judges and 448 district judges. (more...)

Selected biography

A sepia-toned portrait of Garran

Robert Garran was an Australian lawyer and public servant, an early leading expert in Australian constitutional law, the first employee of the Government of Australia and the first Solicitor-General of Australia. Garran spent 31 years as permanent head of the Attorney-General's Department, providing advice to 10 different Prime Ministers (from Barton to Lyons). He played a significant behind-the-scenes role in the Australian federation movement, as adviser to Edmund Barton and chair of the Drafting Committee at the 1897–1898 Constitutional Convention. In addition to his professional work, Garran was also an important figure in the development of the city of Canberra during its early years. He founded several important cultural associations, organised the creation of the Canberra University College, and later contributed to the establishment of the Australian National University. Garran published at least eight books and many journal articles throughout his lifetime, covering such topics as constitutional law, the history of federalism in Australia, and German language poetry. (more...)

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A statute of a seated judge
Photograph taken by dbking and uploaded by Gary Dee
Chief Justice John Marshall (1755 – 1835), an American statesman and jurist who greatly influenced constitutional law

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Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students and denying black children equal educational opportunities unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which permitted segregation. The plaintiffs were thirteen parents from Topeka, Kansas, on behalf of their twenty children. The suit called for the school district to reverse its policy of racial segregation. Separate elementary schools were operated by the Topeka Board of Education under an 1879 Kansas law, which permitted (but did not require) districts to maintain separate elementary school facilities for black and white students in twelve communities with populations over 15,000. Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Warren Court's unanimous (9–0) decision stated that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This ruling paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement. (more...)

Selected statute

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...)

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