According to the UK Law Online website, the sources of the English legal system are by cases, those set by the legislation and those set by the European Union since the United Kingdom in part of the European Union. All three sources of the legal system are similar in that they arise from a need to provide guidelines for interacting with others and the environment.
The more traditional is the case law whereby “legal systems within the United Kingdom were based largely on judge-made law (law developed through decisions by judges necessary to decide cases brought before them – called “common law” or case-law) until around the seventeenth century” (UK Law). In this system laws were made individually by the jurisdiction of all the regions particularly for Scotland where it was really different. Once a law was made by one judge, it set a precedent that everyone after would have to follow unless a newer and alternative decision was made.
To be implemented and made law, higher courts made the decisions that trickled down to lower courts (UK Law). According to a secondary source obtained on Wikipedia, common law is “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each” (Wikipedia 2009). This quote was offered in the case Marbury v.
Madison in 1803 and still remains true today because while a current case is pending the legal guidelines will be based on judgments made on similar cases in the past. The current case in itself sets a precedent that future cases will be based on. One example of common law is the issue of murder, although there is no written law forbidding murder, there is a precedent that it should not be tolerated as if it were law. Murder was punishable by death penalty but currently serves a life sentence (Wikipedia 2009).
Common law is the main source of law in England as well as many other nations that were formally colonized by the British such as the United States and India use it. The other alternative to common law is what is known as civil law. In modern days, legislative/ statutory laws have become common all over the world including in the English system. In this system, the legal laws are set out by parliament in acts that are considered common to all and are documented and do not necessarily follow a precedent.
These laws can be limited to individuals, organizations or by geographical location and are considered to be for the common good (UK Law). An example of statutory law is Disability Discriminatory Act of 1995 that makes it illegal by law to discriminate against people or an individual because they are disabled. This Act is applicable in situation of provision of services, employment as well how a building is constructed whether it is accessible to those disabled or not. The third sources of English law are those that are set by the European Union nation members.
According to Wikipedia, EU law is “the unique legal system which operates alongside the laws of Member States of the European Union (EU). EU law has direct effect within the legal systems of its Member States, and overrides national law in many areas, especially in areas covered by the Single Market” (Wikipedia 2009). Under the economic body of the European Union, there are rules that must be established to ensure standard guidelines for the market economy. It is not a government but an body made of nations with their own sovereignty that have agreed to work together.
Laws are passed to regulate competition and to prevent criminal activity such as the Cote d’Iviore waste dumping case of 2006 (BBC 2007). In this case, waste from an EU nation was dumped in a third world country prompting the EU to pass a law that prevented inconsiderate and harmful activities as dumping. According to the law society, “European Community law has a higher legal status than domestic law. This means that the UK Parliament – and the parliaments of other EU member states – cannot make decisions that undermine agreements made at a European level” (Influencing Law).
While UK remains a sovereign nation capable making independent laws but they cannot contraindicate the Common Wealth Law. The European Communities Act of 1872 ensures that nations can leave the union should they deem their sovereignty being threatened and the law that places the EU law above the English law can also be repealed. The laws passed by the EU are done and voted on in consultation of all parties involved and therefore the likelihood of an unfavorable law that can threaten the UK to pull out of the EU is being slim.
In conclusion, the English laws stem from three primary sources the more traditional and popular case law, the increasingly popular parliamentary acts and those European Union. The common laws are set by precedent and determine how future cases will be rule particularly for sensitive cases such as the punishment for murder. Parliamentary laws focus more on common good and are legally binding to protect those that would otherwise go unprotected such as the disabled.
The EU laws are considered to be above the English laws because they are a binding force for a community of nations. There is still room however for the English legal system to make individual and more specific laws and see how the EU laws are implemented.
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