The Law Portal

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 created and enforced through 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 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 countries, 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 make binding case law through precedent, although on occasion this may be overturned by a higher court or the legislature. Historically, religious law influenced secular matters, and is still used 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.

Law's scope 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.

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. (Full article...)

Selected article

A photograph of a group of people protesting

The doctrine of legitimate expectation in Singapore protects both procedural and substantive rights. In administrative law, a legitimate expectation generally arises when there has been a representation of a certain outcome by the public authorities to an individual. To derogate from the representation may amount to an abuse of power or unfairness. The doctrine of legitimate expectation as a ground to quash decisions of public authorities has been firmly established by the English courts. Thus, where a public authority has made a representation to an individual who would be affected by a decision by the authority, the individual has a legitimate expectation to have his or her views heard before the decision is taken. Alternatively, an individual may also have a legitimate expectation to a substantive right. The recognition of substantive legitimate expectations is somewhat controversial as it requires a balancing of the requirements of fairness against the reasons for any change in the authority's policy. This suggests the adoption of a free-standing proportionality approach, which has been said not to apply in administrative law.

The procedural dimension of the doctrine of legitimate expectation has been recognized by Singapore courts and, since 2013, the substantive form of the doctrine as well. However, whether the courts will adopt the UK approach with regard to measuring legitimate expectation with the ruler of proportionality remains an open question. (Full article...) (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 was knighted three times for his service to the Commonwealth, in 1917, in 1920 and in 1937. (Full article...) (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. (Full article...) Learn more about statutes...

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


A scan of an old document

The Petition of Right, passed on 7 June 1628, is an English constitutional document setting out specific individual protections against the state, reportedly of equal value to Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights 1689. It was part of a wider conflict between Parliament and the Stuart monarchy that led to the 1638 to 1651 Wars of the Three Kingdoms, ultimately resolved in the 1688 Glorious Revolution.

Following a series of disputes with Parliament over granting taxes, in 1627 Charles I imposed "forced loans", and imprisoned those who refused to pay, without trial. This was followed in 1628 by the use of martial law, forcing private citizens to feed, clothe and accommodate soldiers and sailors, which implied the king could deprive any individual of property, or freedom, without justification. It united opposition at all levels of society, particularly those elements the monarchy depended on for financial support, collecting taxes, administering justice etc, since wealth simply increased vulnerability. (Full article...) (more...)


Did you know...

Aerial photograph of an island.

  • ... that in the Bancoult litigation, the English courts and government first decided that the Chagossians could return home (pictured), then that they couldn't, then that they could, and then that they couldn't?

Selected images

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. (Full article...)

Learn more about case law...

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


A caricature of William Ballantine stands in court dress, with particular focus given to his bewigged and abnormally large head.

R v Hopley (more commonly known as the Eastbourne manslaughter) was an 1860 legal case in Eastbourne, Sussex, England, concerning the death of 15-year-old Reginald Cancellor (some sources give his name as Chancellor and his age as 13 or 14) at the hands of his teacher, Thomas Hopley. Hopley used corporal punishment with the stated intention of overcoming what he perceived as stubbornness on Cancellor's part, but instead beat the boy to death.

An inquest into Cancellor's death began when his brother requested an autopsy. As a result of the inquest Hopley was arrested and charged with manslaughter. He was found guilty at trial and sentenced to four years in prison, although he insisted that his actions were justifiable and that he was not guilty of any crime. The trial was sensationalised by the Victorian press and incited debate over the use of corporal punishment in schools. After Hopley's release and subsequent divorce trial, he largely disappeared from the public record. The case became an important legal precedent in the United Kingdom for discussions of corporal punishment in schools and reasonable limits on discipline. (Full article...) (more...)


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