Legal System of Great Britain



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Legal System of Great Britain



Although the United Kingdom is a unitary state England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have their own legal systems, with considerable differences in law, organisation and practice. In Scotland, for instance, there is a separate system for the prosecution of offences and different prison and police services. Northern Ireland, too, has its own police and prison services, although the general criminal law there has come more closely into line with that in England and Wales. On the other hand, crime prevention policy and non-custodial treatment for offenders is similar throughout Britain. There are different civil court and civil law systems in England and Wales and in Scotland; the system in Northern Ireland is in many ways similar to the English and Welsh model.

The most common type of law court in England and Wales is the magistrates' court. There are 700 magistrates' courts and about 30,000 magistrates.

More serious criminal cases then go to the Crown Court, which has 90 branches in different towns and cities. Civil cases (for example, divorce or bankruptcy cases) are dealt with in County courts.

Appeals are heard by higher courts. For example, appeals from magistrates' courts are heard in the Crown Court, unless they are appeals on points of law. The Highest Court of Appeal in England and Wales is the House of Lords. (Scotland has its own High Court in Edinburgh, which hears all appeals from Scottish courts.) Certain cases may be referred to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. In addition, individuals have made the British Government change its practices in a number of areas as a result of petitions to the European Court of Human Rights.

The legal system also includes juvenile courts (which deal with offenders under seventeen) and coroners' courts (which investigate violent, sudden or unnatural deaths). There are administrative tribunals which make quick, cheap and fair decisions with much less formality. Tribunals deal with professional standards, disputes between individuals, and disputes between individuals and government departments (for example, over taxation).

Various government committees are responsible for reviewing the law and making recommendations for its simplification and modernisation. Any changes resulting from this activity are made by legislation.

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Ancient Laws

One of the most detailed ancient legal codes was drawn up in about 1758 B.C. by Hammurabi, a king of Babylonia. The entire code, consisting of 282 paragraphs, was carved into a great stone pillar, which was set up in a temple to the Babylonian god Marduk so that it could be read by every citizen.

The pillar, lost for centuries after the fall of Babylon in the 16th century B.C., was rediscovered by a French archaeologist in 1901 amid the ruins of the Persian city of Susa. Hammurabi's words were still legible. The pillar is now in the Louvre museum in Paris.

The laws laid down by Hammurabi were more extensive than any that had gone before. They covered crime, divorce and marriage, the rights of slave owners and slaves, the settlement of debts, inheritance and property contracts; there were even regulations about taxes and the prices of goods.

Punishments under the code were often harsh. The cruel principle of revenge was observed: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, which meant that criminals had to receive punishment precisely those injuries and damages they had inflicted upon their victims. Not only murderers but also thieves and false accusers faced the death penalty. And a child who hit his father could expect to lose the hand that struck the blow. The code outlawed private blood feuds and banned the tradition by which a man could kidnap and keep the woman he wanted for his bride. In addition, the new laws took account of the circumstances of the offender as well as of the offence. So a lower-ranking citizen who lost a civil case would be fined less than an aristocrat in the same position – though he would also be awarded less if he won.

Nevertheless, Hammurabi's laws represented an advance on earlier tribal customs, because the penalty could not be harder than the crime.

In the seventh century B.C., Dracodrew up Greece's first written code of laws. Under Draco's code death was the punishment for most offences. Draco's laws were shockingly severe so severe that they were said to have been written not in ink but in blood. Thus the term draconian usually applies to extremely harsh measures.

Several decades passed before Solon– poet, military hero and ultimately Athens' lawgiver -- devised a new code of laws. Trial by jury, an ancient Greek tradition, was retained but enslaving debtors was prohibited, as were most of the harsh punishments of Draco's code. Under Solon's law citizens of Athens were eligible to serve in the assembly, and courts were established in which they could appeal government decisions. Solon revised every statute except that on homicide and made Athenian law altogether more humane.

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The Middle Ages Legislation

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a polyethnic country with the majority of the Belarusians and minorities of the Zhamoity, the Ukrainians, and the Polish.

The Belarusians-Lithuanians were characterized by democracy founded in the community traditions of the Polatsk principality of the times of Rahvalod and Usiaslau Charadzei. Democracy led to the spirit of freedom, formed moral and legal views on independence and understanding of personal values. These very principles were the basis for the principal legislation documents of the Duchy and, first of all, of the Statute book – The Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Three versions of The Statute are known of 1529, 1566 and 1588. The thirdversion, considered to be the most perfect, was compiled by the best lawyers supervised by oustanding politicians of the Middle Ages, Chancellor of the GDL Astafei Valovich and his follower Leu Sapieha.

The Statute of 1588 was the most perfect collection of legislation documents in Europe at that lime. The third Statute book was in force for two and a half centuries until 1840. It was intelligible because of being written in vernacular Belarusian. Meanwhile, Roman law with its principal ideas in Latin prevailed in the majority of European countries at that time, and Latin was not clear for common people. Every state document in the GDL was written in Belarusian. This can be easily proved by the archives of the Duchy called the Metric of the GDL. It numbers 600 volumes of state documents which were removed to Russia, and are now kept in Moscow.

With the Statute as the basis for a legal state, not personal will but government, ruled by law, was established. The Statute of 1529 was adopted as the only law for everyone in the GDL. According to the Statute of 1566 the major and minor nobility, middle classes, and peasants became citizens enjoying their full rights. The Duke's power was restricted by state institutions, such as Soim and Rada. The power was divided into legislative, executive, and judicial.

The Grand Duchy Statute of 1588 is rightfully considered to be a classical example of legislation of the Middle Ages. It confirmed the sovereignty of the Duke, established social and political systems of the state, rights and duties of the people, and the principles of a legal system. The Statute officially declared religious tolerance and was responsible for every person's rights, with no connection to his social position and faith. The Grand Duke was obliged to guard the borders of the Duchy and try to return the lost lands. The criminal law was worked out in details, and the presumption of innocence was introduced. The Statute of 1588 seems to be the first European code which sought to protect nature.

The third version of the Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was translated into Polish, Russian, German, and some other languages. It had a considerable influence on the legislation systems of Poland. Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, and Russia.

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