The Law Portal

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

The law is legislation created and enforced through 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 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 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 this 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. (Full article...)

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An elaborately decorated page with the heading "The Constitution of India"

The Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties' are sections of the Constitution of India that prescribe the fundamental obligations of the states to its citizens and the duties and the rights of the citizens to the State. These sections are considered vital elements of the constitution, which was developed between 1947 and 1949 by the Constituent Assembly of India.

The Fundamental Rights are defined in Part III of the Constitution and applied irrespective of race, place of birth, religion, caste, creed, gender, and equality of opportunity in matters of employment. They are enforceable by the courts, subject to specific restrictions. The Directive Principles of State Policy are guidelines for the framing of laws by the government. These provisions, set out in Part IV of the Constitution, are not enforceable by the courts, but the principles on which they are based are fundamental guidelines for governance that the State is expected to apply in framing policies and passing laws. (Full article...) (more...)

Selected biography

Sir Aubrey Melford Steed Stevenson (17 October 1902 – 26 December 1987) was an English barrister and later a High Court judge, whose judicial career was marked by his controversial conduct and outspoken views.

After establishing a legal career in the field of insolvency, Stevenson served during the Second World War as a Deputy Judge Advocate General of the Armed Forces. He was subsequently Judge Advocate at the 1945 war crimes trial of former personnel of the German submarine U-852 for their actions in what became known as the Peleus affair. In 1954 Stevenson represented the government of British Kenya during Jomo Kenyatta's unsuccessful appeal against his conviction for membership of the rebel organisation Mau Mau. Later that year he represented the litigants in the Crichel Down affair, which led to changes in the law on compulsory purchase. In 1955 he defended Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed for murder in the United Kingdom. He was deeply distressed by the execution of Ellis, for whom there had been no defence in law, but who was expected to have been reprieved by Home Secretary Gwilym Lloyd George. Two years later, Stevenson took part in the unsuccessful prosecution of John Bodkin Adams for the murder of Edith Alice Morrell.

Stevenson became a High Court judge in 1957, and acquired a reputation for severity in sentencing. He sentenced the Kray twins to life imprisonment in 1969, with a recommendation that they serve not less than 30 years each. In 1970 Stevenson passed long sentences on eight Cambridge University students who took part in the Garden House riot, and the following year gave Jake Prescott of the Angry Brigade 15 years for conspiracy to cause explosions.

One of his fellow judges, Sir Robin Dunn, described him as "the worst judge since the war". After Dunn's attack, several high-profile legal figures came to Stevenson's defence, among them fellow judge and biographer Lord Roskill, who pointed out that Stevenson could be merciful to those he regarded as victims. Lord Devlin described Stevenson as the "last of the grand eccentrics". Stevenson retired from the bench in 1979 aged 76, and died at St Leonards in East Sussex on 26 December 1987. (Full article...) (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. (Full article...) Learn more about statutes...

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


Photograph of Pierre Elliot Trudeau

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (French: La Charte canadienne des droits et libertés), often simply referred to as the Charter in Canada, is a bill of rights entrenched in the Constitution of Canada, forming the first part of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Charter guarantees certain political rights to Canadian citizens and civil rights of everyone in Canada from the policies and actions of all areas and levels of the government. It is designed to unify Canadians around a set of principles that embody those rights. The Charter was signed into law by Queen Elizabeth II of Canada on April 17, 1982, along with the rest of the Act.

The Charter was preceded by the Canadian Bill of Rights, enacted in 1960, which was only a federal statute rather than a constitutional document. As a federal statute, the Bill could be amended through the ordinary legislative process and had no application to provincial laws. The Supreme Court of Canada also narrowly interpreted the Bill of Rights, showing reluctance to declare laws inoperative. The relative ineffectiveness of the Canadian Bill of Rights motivated many to improve rights protections in Canada. The movement for human rights and freedoms that emerged after World War II also wanted to entrench the principles enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The British Parliament formally enacted the Charter as a part of the Canada Act 1982 at the request of the Parliament of Canada in 1982, the result of the efforts of the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

The Charter greatly expanded the scope of judicial review, because the Charter is more explicit with respect to the guarantee of rights and the role of judges in enforcing them than was the Bill of Rights. The courts, when confronted with violations of Charter rights, have struck down unconstitutional federal and provincial statutes and regulations or parts of statutes and regulations, as they did when Canadian case law was primarily concerned with resolving issues of federalism. The Charter, however, granted new powers to the courts to enforce remedies that are more creative and to exclude more evidence in trials. These powers are greater than what was typical under the common law and under a system of government that, influenced by Canada's parent country the United Kingdom, was based upon Parliamentary supremacy. As a result, the Charter has attracted both broad support from a majority of the Canadian electorate and criticisms by opponents of increased judicial power. The Charter only applies to government laws and actions (including the laws and actions of federal, provincial, and municipal governments and public school boards), and sometimes to the common law, not to private activity. (Full article...) (more...)


Did you know...

  • ... that although Elizabeth Richards Tilton (pictured) was a central figure in a six-month-long trial, she was never allowed to speak in court?

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What is case law?

Case law, also used interchangeably with common law, is law that is based on precedents (previous judicial decisions) rather than law based on constitutions, statutes, or regulations. Case law uses the detailed facts of a 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.

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. (Full article...)

Learn more about case law...

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



Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Baxter Healthcare Pty Ltd, (Baxter) was a decision of the High Court of Australia, which ruled on 29 August 2007 that Baxter Healthcare Proprietary Limited, a tenderer for various government contracts, was bound by the Trade Practices Act 1974 (TPA, Australian legislation governing anti-competitive behaviour) in its trade and commerce in tendering for government contracts. More generally, the case concerned the principles of derivative governmental immunity: whether the immunity of a government from a statute extends to third parties that conduct business with the government.

The High Court's judgment marked a successful appeal for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Australian regulator of anti-competitive conduct, having lost at first instance and on appeal in the Federal Court of Australia. The ACCC was again successful when the case was remitted to the Federal Court for reconsideration, ending eight years of litigation between the parties. The High Court's judgment was received as a significant precedent in the law of derivative governmental immunity in Australia. (Full article...) (more...)


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