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

Law is a set of rules that are created and are enforceable by 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 as 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 jurisdictions, 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 may make binding case law through precedent, although on occasion this may be overturned by a higher court or the legislature. Historically, religious law has influenced secular matters and is, as of the 21st century, still in use 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.

The scope of law 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...)

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A wide red building, with numerous pillars and archways, stands in the middle of some gardens. A road runs just in front of the court.

India's unitary judicial system is made up of the Supreme Court of India at the national level, for the entire country and the 24 High Courts at the State level. These courts have jurisdiction over a state, a union territory or a group of states and union territories. Below the High Courts are a hierarchy of subordinate courts such as the civil courts, family courts, criminal courts and various other district courts. High Courts are instituted as constitutional courts under Part VI, Chapter V, Article 214 of the Indian Constitution.

The High Courts are the principal civil courts of original jurisdiction in the state along with District Courts which are subordinate to the High courts. However, High courts exercise their original civil and criminal jurisdiction only if the courts subordinate to the High court in the state are not competent (not authorized by law) to try such matters for lack of pecuniary, territorial jurisdiction. High courts may also enjoy original jurisdiction in certain matters if so designated specifically in a state or Federal law. e.g.: Company law cases are instituted only in a High court.

Selected biography

Alfred Thompson "Tom" Denning, Baron Denning OM PC DL (23 January 1899 – 5 March 1999) was an English barrister 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". Denning's appellate work in the Court of Appeal did not concern criminal law. 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 became one of the highest profile judges in England in part 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 some 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. Appreciated for his role as "the people's judge" and his support for the individual, Denning attracted attention for his occasionally flexible attitude to the common law principle of precedent. He commented controversially about the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four. ( 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...)


Photograph of people harvesting opium

The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 (Single Convention, 1961 Convention, or C61) is an international treaty that controls activities (cultivation, production, supply, trade, transport) of specific narcotic drugs and lays down a system of regulations (licenses, measures for treatment, research, etc.) for their medical and scientific uses; it also establishes the International Narcotics Control Board.

The Single Convention was adopted in 1961 and amended in 1972. As of 2022, the Single Convention as amended has been ratified by 186 countries. The convention has since been supplemented by the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, which controls LSD, MDMA, and other psychoactive pharmaceuticals, and the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. ( Full article...)

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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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 legal 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...)

More Did you know (auto-generated)

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  • ... that Russian money, known as qiang tie by locals, was used as legal currency in some regions of China for decades?
  • ... that a U.S. Supreme Court case involving the French vessel Euryale considered whether Napoleon III, as a foreign emperor, could bring cases in American courts?
  • ... that The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes discusses the history of transgender man Ewan Forbes and his 1968 legal case to inherit his family's baronetcy that was silenced from public records?
  • ... that South African nurse Stella Madzimbamuto filed an appeal in 1968 with the Privy Council of the United Kingdom that resulted in the Rhodesian government being declared illegal?
  • ... that Bumper Pool legally changed his name to Bumper when he was 16 because of his father's childhood love for bumper pool?
  • ... that a complaint over an allegedly illegal transmitter move led to Texas radio station KFQX-FM being forced off the air for four hours in 1988?

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