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 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...)

Selected article

A portrait of a large gathering of judges

The Court of Chancery was a court of equity in England and Wales that followed a set of loose rules to avoid the slow pace of change and possible harshness (or "inequity") of the common law. The Chancery had jurisdiction over all matters of equity, including trusts, land law, the estates of lunatics and the guardianship of infants. Its initial role was somewhat different: as an extension of the Lord Chancellor's role as Keeper of the King's Conscience, the Court was an administrative body primarily concerned with conscientious law. Thus the Court of Chancery had a far greater remit than the common law courts, whose decisions it had the jurisdiction to overrule for much of its existence, and was far more flexible. Until the 19th century, the Court of Chancery could apply a far wider range of remedies than common law courts, such as specific performance and injunctions, and had some power to grant damages in special circumstances. With the shift of the Exchequer of Pleas towards a common law court and loss of its equitable jurisdiction by the Administration of Justice Act 1841, the Chancery became the only national equitable body in the English legal system.

Academics estimate that the Court of Chancery formally split from and became independent of the curia regis in the mid-14th century, at which time it consisted of the Lord Chancellor and his personal staff, the Chancery. Initially an administrative body with some judicial duties, the Chancery experienced an explosive growth in its work during the 15th century, particularly under the House of York, which academics attribute to its becoming an almost entirely judicial body. From the time of Elizabeth I onwards the Court was severely criticised for its slow pace, large backlogs, and high costs. Those problems persisted until its dissolution, despite being mitigated somewhat by reforms, particularly during the 19th century. Attempts at fusing the Chancery with the common law courts began in the 1850s, and finally succeeded with the 1873 and 1875 Supreme Court of Judicature Acts, which dissolved the Chancery and created a new unified High Court of Justice, with the Chancery Division – one of three divisions of the High Court – succeeding the Court of Chancery as an equitable body. ( Full article...) ( more...)

Selected biography

A photograph of Moxon

Kendrick Lichty Moxon is an American Scientology official and an attorney with the law firm Moxon & Kobrin. He practices in Los Angeles, California, and is a lead counsel for the Church of Scientology. Moxon received a B.A. from American University in 1972, and a J.D. degree from George Mason University in 1981. He was admitted to the Washington, D.C. bar association in 1984, and the State Bar of California in 1987. Moxon's early work for the Church of Scientology involved legal affairs, and he also held the title of "reverend". He worked out of the Scientology intelligence agency known as the Guardian's Office (GO), and was named as an unindicted co-conspirator after the Federal Bureau of Investigation's investigation into criminal activities by Scientology operatives called " Operation Snow White". An evidence stipulation in the case signed by both parties stated he had provided false handwriting samples to the FBI; Moxon has since said that he did not "knowingly supply" false handwriting samples.

The bulk of Moxon's legal work is Scientology-related. He has served as Commissioner of the Scientology-affiliated organization Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR). He represented the Church of Scientology in 1988 in a billion-dollar class action lawsuit against the organization by former Scientologists which was dismissed in Los Angeles Superior Court. In 1990 Moxon represented the organization in a suit against the Internal Revenue Service in an attempt to gain access to information about Scientology held by the IRS. He assisted 50 Scientologists in filing separate lawsuits against the organization Cult Awareness Network (CAN), which led to the bankruptcy of the organization. He represented the plaintiff in the Jason Scott case against CAN and cult deprogrammer Rick Ross. ( 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:


A scan of the appendix page of the Japanese Act on National Flag and Anthem

The Act on National Flag and Anthem (国旗及び国歌に関する法律, Kokki Oyobi Kokka ni Kansuru Hōritsu), abbreviated as 国旗国歌法, is a law that formally established Japan's national flag and anthem. Before its ratification on August 13, 1999, there was no official flag or anthem for Japan. The nisshōki (日章旗) flag, commonly referred to as the hinomaru (日の丸), had represented Japan unofficially since 1870; " Kimigayo" (君が代) had been used as Japan's de facto anthem since 1880.

After Japan's defeat in World War II, there were suggestions to legislate the hinomaru and Kimigayo as the official symbols of Japan. However, a law to establish the hinomaru and Kimigayo as official in 1974 failed in the Diet, due to the opposition of the Japan Teachers Union that insists they have a connection with Japanese militarism. It was suggested that both the hinomaru and Kimigayo should be made official after a school principal in Hiroshima committed suicide over a dispute regarding the use of the flag and anthem in a school ceremony.

After a vote in both houses of the Diet, the law was passed on August 9, 1999. Promulgated and enforced on August 13, 1999, it was considered one of the most controversial laws passed by the Diet in the 1990s. The debate surrounding the law also revealed a split in the leadership of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the unity of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and coalition partners.

The passage of the law was met with mixed reactions. Although some Japanese hailed the passage, others felt that it was a shift toward restoring nationalistic feelings and culture: It was passed in time for the anniversary of Emperor Akihito's enthronement. In the countries that Japan had occupied during World War II, some felt that the law's passage, along with debates on laws related to military affairs and Yasukuni Shrine, marked a shift in Japan toward the political right. Regulations and government orders issued in the wake of this law, especially those issued by the Tokyo Board of Education, were also challenged in court by some Japanese due to conflicts with the Japanese constitution. ( Full article...) ( more...)


Did you know...

Photographs of a woman standing at a podium and gesturing.

  • ... that Dutch physician Aletta Jacobs legal challenge to be added to the Amsterdam electoral rolls backfired, leading to a constitutional amendment granting voting rights only to men?
  • ... that when Henry McCardie was a barrister, he often worked so late that his chambers were nicknamed "the lighthouse", as there was light coming from the windows?
  • ... that the diaries of James Humphreys, the "Emperor of Porn", were used to convict 13 policemen of accepting his bribes?

Selected images

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. ( 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:


Heraldry with a kangaroo and an emu

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. Al-Kateb and 8 other stateless people were granted bridging visas in 2005 and while this meant they were released from detention, they were unable to work, study or obtain various government benefits. Al-Kateb was granted a permanent visa in October 2007. ( Full article...) ( more...)


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