- Law of the United Kingdom
United Kingdomhas three legal systems. [ [http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Gtgl1/GuideToGovernment/Judiciary/DG_4003097 "The UK has three legal systems, operating in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland"] , direct.gov.uk, accesses 12 March 2007] English law, which applies in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland law, which applies in Northern Ireland, are based on common-law principles. Scots law, which applies in Scotland, is a pluralistic system based on civil-law principles, with common law elements dating back to the High Middle Ages. The Treaty of Union, put into effect by the Acts of Unionin 1707, guaranteed the continued existence of a separate law system for Scotland. The Acts of Union between Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 contained no equivalent provision but preserved the principle of separate courts to be held in Ireland, now Northern Ireland.
The Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (usually just referred to, as "The
House of Lords") is the highest court in the land for all criminal and civil cases in England and Walesand Northern Ireland, and for all civil cases in Scots law. Recent constitutional changes will see the powers of the House of Lords transfer to a new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. [PDFlink| [http://www.dca.gov.uk/consult/supremecourt/supreme.pdf "Constitutional reform: A Supreme Court for the United Kingdom"] |252 KiB , Department for Constitutional Affairs; accessed 2006-05-22.]
England and Wales, the court system is headed by the Supreme Court of England and Wales, consisting of the Court of Appeal, the High Court of Justice(for civil cases) and the Crown Court(for criminal cases). The Courts of Northern Irelandfollow the same pattern. In Scotlandthe chief courts are the Court of Session, for civil cases, and the High Court of Justiciary, for criminal cases, while the sheriff courtis the Scottish equivalent of the county court.
Judicial Committee of the Privy Councilis the highest court of appeal for several independent Commonwealth countries, the British overseas territories, and the British Crown dependencies. There are also immigration courts with UK-wide jurisdiction — the Asylum and Immigration Tribunaland Special Immigration Appeals Commission. The Employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunalhave jurisdiction throughout Great Britain, but not Northern Ireland.
Three legal systems
There are three distinct legal jurisdictions in the United Kingdom:
England and Wales, Northern Irelandand Scotland. [PDFlink| [http://assets.cambridge.org/052178/2600/sample/0521782600ws.pdf pdf file] |64.6 KiB "For the purposes of the English conflict of laws, every country in the world which is not part of England and Walesis a foreign country and its foreign laws. This means that not only totally foreign independent countries such as Franceor Russia... are foreign countries but also British Coloniessuch as the Falkland Islands. Moreover, the other parts of the United Kingdom - Scotland and Northern Ireland - are foreign countries for present purposes, as are the other British Islands, the Isle of Man, Jerseyand Guernsey." "Conflict of Laws", JG Collier, Fellow of Trinity Hall and lecturer in Law, University of Cambridge] Each has its own legal system.
"English law" is a term of art. It refers to the
legal systemadministered by the courts in England and Wales. The ultimate body of appeal is the Law lordsin House of Lords. They rule on both civil and criminal matters. English law is renowned as being the mother of the common law. English law can be described as having its own distinct legal doctrine, distinct from civil law legal systems since 1189. There has been no major codificationof the law, and judicial precedents are binding as opposed to persuasive. In the early centuries, the justices and judges were responsible for adapting the Writsystem to meet everyday needs, applying a mixture of precedent and common sense to build up a body of internally consistent law, e.g., the Law Merchantbegan in the Pie-Powder Courts see Court of Piepowder(a corruption of the French "pieds-poudrés" or "dusty feet", meaning ad hoc marketplace courts). As Parliament developed in strength, and subject to the doctrine of separation of powers, legislation gradually overtook judicial law making so that, today, judges are only able to innovate in certain very narrowly defined areas. Time before 1189 was defined in 1276 as being time immemorial.
Acts of Union, in 1707, English law has been one of two legal systems in the same kingdom and has been influenced by Scots law, most notably in the development and integration of the law merchant by Lord Mansfield and in time the development of the law of negligence. Scottish influence may have influenced the abolition of the forms of action in the nineteenth century and extensive procedural reforms in the twentieth.
Northern Irish legal system
The law of Northern Ireland is a common law system. It is administered by the courts of Northern Ireland, with ultimate appeal to the House of Lords in both civil and criminal matters. The law of Northern Ireland is closely similar to English law, the rules of common law having been imported into the
Kingdom of Irelandunder English rule. However there are still important differences.
The sources of the law of Northern Ireland are English common law, and statute law. Of the latter, statutes of the Parliaments of Ireland, of the United Kingdom and of Northern Ireland are in force, and latterly statutes of the devolved Assembly.
Scots law is a unique legal system with an ancient basis in
Roman law. Grounded in uncodified civil law dating back to the " Corpus Juris Civilis", it also features elements of common lawwith medieval sources. Thus Scotlandhas a pluralistic, or 'mixed', legal system, comparable to that of South Africa, and, to a lesser degree, the partly codified pluralistic systems of Louisiana and Quebec. Since the Acts of Union, in 1707, it has shared a legislature with the rest of the United Kingdom. Scotland and England & Wales each retained fundamentally different legal systems, but the Union brought English influence on Scots law and vice versa. In recent years Scots law has also been affected by both European lawunder the Treaty of Romeand the establishment of the Scottish Parliamentwhich may pass legislation within its areas of legislative competence as detailed by the Scotland Act 1998.
United Kingdom legislatures
United Kingdom Parliament
Parliament of the United Kingdomis bicameral, with an upper house, the House of Lords, and a lower house, the House of Commons. The House of Lords includes two different types of members: the Lords Spiritual(the senior bishops of the Church of England) and the Lords Temporal(members of the Peerage); its members are not elected by the population at large. The House of Commons is a democratically elected chamber. The two Houses meet in separate chambers in the Palace of Westminster(commonly known as the "Houses of Parliament"), in the City of Westminsterin London. By constitutional convention, all government ministers, including the Prime Minister, are members of the House of Commons or House of Lords.
Parliament evolved from the early medieval councils that advised the sovereigns of England and Scotland. In theory, power is vested not in Parliament, but in the "
Queen-in-Parliament" (or "King-in-Parliament"). The Queen-in-Parliament is often said to be a completely sovereign authority, though such a position is debatable. In modern times, real power is vested in the House of Commons; the Sovereign acts only as a figurehead and the powers of the House of Lords are greatly limited.
Northern Ireland Assembly
The Parliament of
Northern Irelandwas the home rule legislature created under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which existed from 7 June 1921 to 30 March 1972, when it was suspended. It was subsequently abolished under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. The Parliament of Northern Ireland was bicameral, consisting of a House of Commons with 52 seats, and an indirectly-elected Senate with 26 seats. The Sovereign was represented by the Governor, who granted Royal Assentto Acts of Parliament in Northern Ireland, but executive power rested with the Prime Minister, the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons.
The Scottish Parliament (Scottish Gaelic: "Pàrlamaid na h-Alba"; Scots: "Scots Pairlament") is located in the Holyrood area of the capital
Edinburgh. The Parliament, which is informally referred to as "Holyrood"cite web |url=http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/vli/education/resources/teachingResources/wordBank.htm |title=Scottish Parliament Word Bank|publisher=Scottish Parliament |accessdate=2006-11-14] (cf. "Westminster"), is a democratically elected body of 129 members who are known as Members of the Scottish Parliamentor MSPs. Members are elected for four year terms under the Additional Member Systemof proportional representation. As a result, 73 MSPs represent individual geographical constituencies elected by the plurality voting system("first past the post"), with a further 56 returned from eight additional member regions, each electing seven MSPs.cite web |url=http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/msp/index.htm |title=Scottish Parliament MSPs |publisher=Scottish Parliament |accessdate=2006-11-14] The original Parliament of Scotland(or "Estates of Scotland") was the national legislature of the independent Kingdom of Scotlandand existed from the early thirteenth century until the Kingdom of Scotland merged with the Kingdom of Englandunder the Acts of Union 1707to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.cite web |url=http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/vli/history/firstscottishparliament/index.htm |title=The First Scottish Parliament: the Middle Ages – 1707 |publisher=Scottish Parliament |accessdate=2006-11-14] As a consequence, the Parliament of Scotland merged with Parliament of England, to form the Parliament of Great Britain, which sat at Westminster in London.
National Assembly for Wales
The National Assembly for
Wales( _cy. Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru" ["CCC"] "‍) is a devolved assembly with power to make legislation in Wales. The assembly building is known as the Senedd. The Assembly was formed under the Government of Wales Act 1998, by the Labour government, following a referendum in 1997. The campaign for a 'yes' vote in the referendum was supported by Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democratsand much of Welsh civic society, such as church groups and the trade union movement. [Andrews, Leighton (1999) "Wales says yes: the inside story of the yes for Wales referendum campaign" Seren: Bridgend.] The Conservative Party was the only major political party in Wales to oppose devolution. [" [http://www.bbc.co.uk/politics97/devolution/wales/briefing/partypolicy.shtml The Politics of Devolution - Party policy] ": Politics '97 pages, BBC. Retrieved 8 September 2006.]
The National Assembly consists of 60 elected members. They use the title Assembly Member (AM) or "Aelod y Cynulliad" (AC). [ [http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/n6m/wales/your_rights/civil_rights/national_assembly_for_wales.htm The National Assembly for Wales] , Civil rights - In Wales, Advice guide,
Citizens Advice Bureau. Retrieved 2006-07-13.] The executive arm of the Assembly Welsh Assembly Government, is led by First Minister, Rhodri Morgan." [http://www.wales.gov.uk/organicabinet/content/members/cabinet-members-e.htm National Assembly for Wales, Organization] " Cabinet Members, Welsh Assembly] The executive and civil servants are based in Cardiff's Cathays Park while the Assembly Members, the Assembly Parliamentary Service and Ministerial support staff are based in Cardiff Baywhere a new £67 million Assembly Building, known as the Senedd, has recently been built. [ [http://www.direct.gov.uk/Gtgl1/GuideToGovernment/DevolvedAndLocalGovernment/DevolvedAndLocalGovernmentArticles/fs/en?CONTENT_ID=4003262&chk=TcEHWp National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Assembly Government] in "Guide to government: Devolved and local government", [http://www.direct.gov.uk Directgov] , UK state website. Retrieved 2006-07-13.] [ [http://www.wales.gov.uk/assemblybuilding/index.htm Assembly Building] : Welsh government website. Retrieved 2006-07-13.] [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/4686944.stm New assembly building opens doors] : BBC News, 1 March 2006. Retrieved 2006-07-13.]
While England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland diverge in the more detailed rules of common law and equity, and while there are certain fields of legislative competence devolved in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and London, there are substantive fields of law which apply across the United Kingdom.
Constitution of the United Kingdom
British constitutional law
British Nationality Law
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