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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 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 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.

The adjudication of the law is generally divided into two main areas. Criminal law deals with conduct that is considered harmful to social order and in which the guilty party may be imprisoned or fined. Civil law (not to be confused with civil law jurisdictions above) deals with the resolution of lawsuits (disputes) between individuals and/or organizations.

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.

Selected article

A black and white photograph of King George and Queen Elizabeth seated on thrones

Royal assent is the method by which a monarch formally approves an act of the legislature (either directly, or through an official acting on the monarch's behalf). In some jurisdictions, royal assent is equivalent to promulgation, while in others that is a separate step. Under a modern constitutional monarchy royal assent is considered to be little more than a formality; even in those nations which still, in theory, permit the monarch to withhold assent to laws (such as the United Kingdom, Norway, and Liechtenstein), the monarch almost never does so, save in a dire political emergency or upon the advice of their government. While the power to veto a law by withholding royal assent was once exercised often by European monarchs, such an occurrence has been very rare since the eighteenth century.

Royal assent is sometimes associated with elaborate ceremonies. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the sovereign may appear personally in the House of Lords or may appoint Lords Commissioners, who announce that royal assent has been granted at a ceremony held at the Palace of Westminster for this purpose. However, royal assent is usually granted less ceremonially by letters patent. In other nations, such as Australia, the governor-general (as the monarch's representative) merely signs a bill. In Canada, the governor general may give assent either in person at a ceremony held in the Senate or by a written declaration notifying parliament of their agreement to the bill. (more...)

Selected biography

A sepia-toned portrait of Garran

Sir Robert Randolph Garran GCMG QC (10 February 1867 – 11 January 1957) was an Australian lawyer who became "Australia's first public servant" – the first federal government employee after the federation of the Australian colonies. He served as the departmental secretary of the Attorney-General's Department from 1901 to 1932, and after 1916 also held the position of Solicitor-General of Australia.

Garran was born in Sydney, the son of the journalist and politician Andrew Garran. He studied arts and law at the University of Sydney and was called to the bar in 1891. Garran was a keen supporter of the federation movement, and became acquainted with leading federalists like George Reid and Edmund Barton. At the 1897–98 constitutional convention he served as secretary of the drafting committee. On 1 January 1901, Garran was chosen by Barton's caretaker government as its first employee; for a brief period, he was the only member of the Commonwealth Public Service. His first duty was to write the inaugural edition of the Commonwealth Gazette, which contained Queen Victoria's proclamation authorising the creation of a federal government.

Over the following three decades, Garran provided legal advice to ten different prime ministers, from Barton to Joseph Lyons. He was considered an early expert in Australian constitutional law, and with John Quick published an annotated edition of the constitution that became a standard reference work. Garran developed a close relationship with Billy Hughes during World War I, and accompanied him to the Imperial War Cabinet and the Paris Peace Conference. Hughes, who was simultaneously prime minister and attorney-general, appointed him to the new position of solicitor-general and delegated numerous powers and responsibilities to him. He received two knighthoods for his work, one in 1917 and one in 1920. (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. Learn more about statutes...

Following is an example of a noted statute or comparable written law:


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Hawaii House Bill 444 was a 2009 bill of the Hawaii State Legislature, passed in April 2010 and vetoed by Governor of Hawaii Linda Lingle, that would have legalized civil unions for couples in the state of Hawaii. Its legislative process was accompanied by controversy over the bill's content and effects and rallies were held by supporters and opponents.

The bill passed the Hawaii House of Representatives in February 2009 in a form specific to same-sex couples, was passed in amended form including opposite-sex couples by the Hawaii Senate in May 2009, and was carried over in the 2010 session, where it passed the Senate again in January 2010 with a veto-proof majority. The bill moved back to the House but was indefinitely postponed by a voice vote initiated by House Speaker Calvin Say, requiring a vote of two-thirds of Representatives to be taken up again in 2010, and was considered dead. In April 2010, on the last day of the legislative session, the House suspended the rules on the Senate bill and passed it with a majority, sending the bill to Governor Linda Lingle, who vetoed it in July 2010. (more...)


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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.

Learn more about case law...

For examples of noted cases, see Lists of case law. Following is one example of such a noted case:



Pepper (Inspector of Taxes) v Hart [1992] UKHL 3, is a landmark decision of the House of Lords on the use of legislative history in statutory interpretation. The court established the principle that when primary legislation is ambiguous then, under certain circumstances, the court may refer to statements made in the House of Commons or House of Lords in an attempt to interpret the meaning of the legislation. Before this ruling, such an action would have been seen as a breach of parliamentary privilege.

Hart and nine others were teachers at Malvern College who benefited from a scheme that allowed their children to be educated at the College for one-fifth of the normal fees of a pupil. The Inland Revenue attempted to tax this benefit based on the Finance Act 1976. There was a dispute over exactly what the Act meant, which could be resolved with the use of Hansard, something not allowed at the time. The Special Commissioners charged with assessing the tax found in favour of Hart, however both the High Court of Justice and Court of Appeal of England and Wales found in favour of the Inland Revenue. The case then went to the House of Lords, which found in favour of Hart and allowed the use of Hansard. (more...)


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