Portal:Law

Introduction

Iustitia ("Lady Justice") is a symbolic personification of the coercive power of a tribunal: a sword representing state authority, scales representing an objective standard, and a blindfold indicating that justice should be impartial.

Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has been defined both as "the Science of Justice" and "the Art of Justice". Law is a system that regulates and ensures that individuals or a community adhere to the will of the state. State-enforced laws can be made by a collective legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or established by judges through precedent, normally in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that may elect to accept alternative arbitration to the normal court process. The formation 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.

A general distinction can be made between (a) civil law jurisdictions, in which a legislature or other central body codifies and consolidates their laws, and (b) common law systems, where judge-made precedent is accepted as binding law. Historically, religious laws played a significant role even in settling of secular matters, and is still used in some religious communities. Islamic Sharia law is the world's most widely used religious law, and is used as the primary legal system in some countries, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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A modern photograph of a large chamber with many desks and chairs arranged in a semicircle

The Scottish Parliament is the national unicameral legislature of Scotland, located in the Holyrood area of Edinburgh. The Parliament is a democratically elected body composed of 129 members who are known as Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). Members are elected for four year terms under the proportional representation system. The original Parliament of Scotland was the national legislature of the independent Kingdom of Scotland and existed from the early 13th century until the Kingdom of Scotland merged with the Kingdom of England under the Acts of Union 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. Following a referendum in 1997 where the Scottish people gave their consent, the current Parliament was established by the Scotland Act 1998 which sets out its powers as a devolved legislature. The Act delineated the areas in which it can make laws by explicitly specifying powers that are "reserved" to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. All matters that are not explicitly reserved are automatically the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. The UK Parliament retains the ability to amend the terms of reference of the Scottish Parliament, and can extend or reduce the areas in which it can make laws. (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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Selected case

An aerial photograph of Diego Garcia

R (Bancoult) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (No 2) was a case of the House of Lords concerning the removal of the Chagos Islanders and the exercise of the Royal Prerogative. The Chagos Islands, acquired by the United Kingdom in 1814, were reorganised as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) in 1965 for the purpose of removing its inhabitants. Under a 1971 Order-in-Council, the Chagossians were forcibly removed, and the central island of Diego Garcia leased to the United States for use as a military outpost. In 2000, Olivier Bancoult successfully brought a judicial review claim against the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for the initial ordinance which led to the Chagossian removal. In response, Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, repealed the 1971 Order-in-Council and announced he would not appeal against the decision, allowing the Chagossians to return home. In 2004, a second Order-in-Council was produced, again reinstating the off-limits nature of the Chagos Islands. Bancoult brought a second case, arguing that this Order was again ultra vires and unreasonable, and that Cook had violated legitimate expectation by passing the second Order after giving the impression that the Chagossians were free to return home. On 22 October 2008, the Lords decided by a 3-2 majority to uphold the new Order-in-Council, stating that it was valid and, although judicial review actions could look at Orders-in-Council, the national security and foreign relations issues in the case barred them from doing so. (more...)

Selected statute

A filer warning of, among other things, "mental hygiene"

The Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act of 1956 was an Act of Congress passed to improve mental health care in the United States territory of Alaska. Introduced in the House of Representatives by Alaska Congressional Delegate Bob Bartlett in January 1956, it became the focus of a major political controversy. The legislation was opposed by a variety of far-right, anti-Communist and fringe religious groups, prompting what was said to have been the biggest political controversy seen on Capitol Hill since the early 1940s. Prominent opponents nicknamed it the "Siberia Bill" and asserted that it was part of an international Jewish, Roman Catholic or psychiatric conspiracy intended to establish United Nations-run concentration camps in the United States. With the sponsorship of the conservative Republican senator Barry Goldwater, a modified version of the Act was approved unanimously by the United States Senate in July 1956 after only ten minutes of debate. (more...)

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