Portal:Law

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The Court of Cassation, Italy
The Court of Cassation, Italy

Law is a system of rules, usually enforced through a set of institutions. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a primary social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus ticket to trading on derivatives markets. Property law defines rights and obligations related to the transfer and title of personal (often referred to as chattel) and real property. Trust law applies to assets held for investment and financial security, while tort law allows claims for compensation if a person's rights or property are harmed. If the harm is criminalised in a statute, criminal law offers means by which the state can prosecute the perpetrator. Constitutional law provides a framework for the creation of law, the protection of human rights and the election of political representatives. Administrative law is used to review the decisions of government agencies, while international law governs affairs between sovereign states in activities ranging from trade to environmental regulation or military action. Writing in 350 BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle declared: "The rule of law is better than the rule of any individual."

Legal systems elaborate rights and responsibilities in a variety of ways. A general distinction can be made between civil law jurisdictions, which codify their laws, and common law systems, where judge made law is not consolidated. In some countries, religion informs the law. Law provides a rich source of scholarly inquiry, into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis or sociology. Law also raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness and justice. "In its majestic equality", said the author Anatole France in 1894, "the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread." In a typical democracy, the central institutions for interpreting and creating law are the three main branches of government, namely an impartial judiciary, a democratic legislature, and an accountable executive. To implement and enforce the law and provide services to the public, a government's bureaucracy, the military and police are vital. While all these organs of the state are creatures created and bound by law, an independent legal profession and a vibrant civil society inform and support their progress. (More…) Template:/box-footer

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A black and white drawing of an elephant stepping onto a prisoner, labelled "An Execution by an Elephant"

Execution by elephant was, for thousands of years, a common method of capital punishment in South and Southeast Asia, and particularly in India. Asian Elephants were used to crush, dismember, or torture captives in public executions. The animals were trained and versatile, both able to kill victims immediately or to torture them slowly over a prolonged period. Employed by royalty, the elephants were used to signify both the ruler's absolute power and his ability to control wild animals. The sight of elephants executing captives attracted the interest of usually horrified European travellers, and was recorded in numerous contemporary journals and accounts of life in Asia. The practice was eventually suppressed by the European empires that colonised the region in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it is not employed by any country today. While primarily confined to Asia, the method of execution was occasionally adopted by western powers, such as Rome and Carthage, particularly to deal with mutinous soldiers. (more...)

Selected biography

Alfred Denning, Baron Denning (1899–1999) was a British soldier, mathematician, lawyer and judge. He studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, although his studies were disrupted by his service in the First World War. He then began his legal career, distinguishing himself as a barrister and becoming a King's Counsel in 1938. He became a judge in 1944 with an appointment to the Family Division of the High Court of Justice and was made a Lord Justice of Appeal in 1948 after fewer 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. One of the most publicly known judges thanks to his report on the Profumo Affair, Lord Denning was held in high regard by much of the judiciary, the Bar and the public. 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. During his 38 year career as a judge he made large changes to the common law, particularly while in the Court of Appeal. (more...)

Did you know...

  • ... that the non-payment of debts is the archetype for the seventeen other Hindu titles of law, including the sexual crimes against women?


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Photograph taken by dbking and uploaded by Gary Dee
Chief Justice John Marshall (1755 – 1835), an American statesman and jurist who greatly influenced constitutional law

Selected case

A portrait of Lord Hardwicke

Gyles v Wilcox was a decision in 1740 of the Court of Chancery of England that established the doctrine of fair abridgement, which would later evolve into the concept of fair use. The case concerned Fletcher Gyles, a bookseller who had published a copy of Matthew Hale's Pleas of the Crown. Soon after the initial publication, the publishers Wilcox and Nutt hired a writer named Barrow to abridge the book, and repackaged it as Modern Crown Law. Gyles sued for a stay on the book's publishing, claiming his rights under the Statute of Anne had been infringed. The main issues in the case were whether or not abridgements of a work were inherently pirated copies, or whether they could qualify as a separate, new work. Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke, ruled that abridgements fell under two categories: "true abridgements" and "coloured shortenings". True abridgements presented a true effort on the part of the editor, and by this effort, constituted a new work which did not infringe upon the copyright of the original. He ruled that Modern Crown Law was not a true abridgement, but merely a piracy intending to circumvent the law. The case established the common law doctrine of fair abridgement, and recognised the author's right to a work through the nature of the labour it took to produce it, shifting copyright away from publishing rights and towards the idea of serving the greater good by encouraging the production of new, useful works. (more...)

Selected statute

The first page of the Accurate News and Information Act

The Accurate News and Information Act was a statute passed by the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, Canada, in 1937, at the instigation of William Aberhart's Social Credit government. Aberhart and the Social Credit League had been in a stormy relationship with the press since before the 1935 election, in which they were elected to government. Virtually all of Alberta's newspapers—especially the Calgary Herald—were critical of Social Credit, as were a number of publications from elsewhere in Canada. Even the American media had greeted Aberhart's election with derision. The act would have required newspapers to print "clarifications" of stories that a committee of Social Credit legislators deemed inaccurate. It would also have required them to reveal their sources on demand. Though the act won easy passage through the Social Credit-dominated legislature, Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta John C. Bowen reserved royal assent until the Supreme Court of Canada evaluated the act's legality. In 1938's Reference re Alberta Statutes, the court found that it was unconstitutional, and it was never signed into law. (more...)

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