Portal:Law Information

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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 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. ( Full article...)

Selected article

A black and white photograph of Nikolai Krylenko

The Ministry of Justice of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) ( Russian: Министерство юстиции СССР, Ministerstvo Yustitsii SSSR), formed on 15 March 1946, was one of the most important government offices in the Soviet Union. It was formerly (until 1946) known as the People's Commissariat for Justice ( Russian: Народный комиссариат юстиции, Narodniy Komissariat Yustitsi'i) abbreviated as Наркомюст (Narkomiust). The Ministry, at the All-Union (USSR-wide) level, was established on 6 July 1923, after the signing of the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR, and was in turn based upon the People's Commissariat for Justice of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) formed in 1917. The Ministry was led by the Minister of Justice, prior to 1946 a Commissar, who was nominated by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers and confirmed by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, and was a member of the Council of Ministers.

The Ministry of Justice was responsible for courts, prisons, and probations. Further responsibilities included criminal justice policy, sentencing policy, and prevention of re-offending in the USSR. The Ministry was organised into All-Union and Union departments. The All-Union level ministries were divided into separate organisations in the Republican, Autonomous Oblast, and provincial level. The leadership of the Ministry of Justice came from notable Soviet law organisations from around the country. ( Full article...)

Selected biography

Alfred Thompson "Tom" Denning, Baron Denning, OM, PC, DL (23 January 1899 – 5 March 1999) was an English lawyer and judge. He was called to the bar of England and Wales in 1923 and became a King's Counsel in 1938. Denning became a judge in 1944 when he was appointed to the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice, and transferred to the King's Bench Division in 1945. He was made a Lord Justice of Appeal in 1948 after less than five years in the High Court. He became a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 1957 and after five years in the House of Lords returned to the Court of Appeal as Master of the Rolls in 1962, a position he held for twenty years. In retirement he wrote several books and continued to offer opinions on the state of the common law through his writing and his position in the House of Lords.

Margaret Thatcher said that Denning was "probably the greatest English judge of modern times". Mark Garnett and Richard Weight argue that Denning was a conservative Christian who "remained popular with morally conservative Britons who were dismayed at the postwar rise in crime and who, like him, believed that the duties of the individual were being forgotten in the clamour for rights. He had a more punitive than redemptive view of criminal justice, as a result of which he was a vocal supporter of corporal and capital punishment." However, he changed his stance on capital punishment in later life.

Denning was one of the highest profile judges in England because of his report on the Profumo affair. He was known for his bold judgments running counter to the law at the time. During his 38-year career as a judge, he made large changes to the common law, particularly while in the Court of Appeal, and although many of his decisions were overturned by the House of Lords several of them were confirmed by Parliament, which passed statutes in line with his judgments. Although appreciated for his role as "the people's judge" and his support for the individual, Denning was also controversial for his campaign against the common law principle of precedent, and for comments he made regarding the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, and also as Master of the Rolls for his conflict with the House of Lords. ( Full article...)

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...)


The Variation of Trusts Act 1958 ( c 62) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that governs the courts' ability to vary the terms of trust documents. Prior to the 1950s, the courts were willing to approve "compromise" agreements as to what terms meant, not only when they were disputed but also for the benefit of certain parties, such as minors. In 1954, the House of Lords decided in Chapman v Chapman that this would no longer be permitted, creating a gap between the rights of trusts under the Settled Land Act 1925 (which could be altered if there was a flaw) and those trusts that were not (which were affected by the Chapman decision). As a result, following a report by the Law Reform Committee, Petre Crowder introduced the Variation of Trusts Bill to Parliament, where it was given the Royal Assent on 23 July 1958, and came into force as the Variation of Trusts Act 1958.

The Act gave the courts near-unlimited discretion to approve "compromise" agreements, for the benefit of infants or other incapable individuals, for individuals who may become beneficiaries, or for unborn beneficiaries. The courts are also able to approve agreements for individuals who may be beneficiaries under protective trusts, with no requirement that the alterations be for their benefit. The courts have interpreted the Act's scope fairly widely, stating that almost any "variation" is acceptable, and that "benefit" may mean not just a financial benefit, but also a social or moral one. Despite initial fears that it would allow tax planners another way to hide funds and create a back-and-forth fight between the Chancery Division and Parliament, the Act was met with general approval. The ability of the courts to alter trustees' investment powers under the Act was criticised as slow and expensive, and as a result this is now covered by the Trustee Investments Act 1961. ( 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 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...)


Two men dressed in suits are surrounded by people holding signs.

The Smith Act trials of Communist Party leaders in New York City from 1949 to 1958 were the result of US federal government prosecutions in the postwar period and during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Leaders of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) were accused of violating the Smith Act, a statute that prohibited advocating violent overthrow of the government. The defendants argued that they advocated a peaceful transition to socialism, and that the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech and of association protected their membership in a political party. Appeals from these trials reached the US Supreme Court, which ruled on issues in Dennis v. United States (1951) and Yates v. United States (1957).

The first trial of eleven communist leaders was held in New York in 1949; it was one of the lengthiest trials in United States history. Numerous supporters of the defendants protested outside the courthouse on a daily basis. The trial was featured twice on the cover of Time magazine. The defense frequently antagonized the judge and prosecution; five defendants were jailed for contempt of court because they disrupted the proceedings. The prosecution's case relied on undercover informants, who described the goals of the CPUSA, interpreted communist texts, and testified of their own knowledge that the CPUSA advocated the violent overthrow of the US government.

While the first trial was under way, events outside the courtroom influenced public perception of communism: the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon, and communists prevailed in the Chinese Civil War. In this period, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had also begun conducting investigations and hearings of writers and producers in Hollywood suspected of communist influence. Public opinion was overwhelmingly against the defendants in New York. After a 10-month trial, the jury found all 11 defendants guilty. The judge sentenced them to terms of up to five years in federal prison, and sentenced all five defense attorneys to imprisonment for contempt of court. Two of the attorneys were subsequently disbarred. ( Full article...)

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