(England Twitter)-English law is the legal system of England and Wales, and is the basis of common law legal systems used in most Commonwealth countries and the United States except Louisiana (as opposed to civil law or pluralist systems in use in other countries). It was exported to Commonwealth countries while the British Empire was established and maintained, and it forms the basis of the jurisprudence of most of those countries. English law prior to the American Revolution is still part of the law of the United States through reception statutes, except in Louisiana, and provides the basis for many American legal traditions and policies, though it has no superseding jurisdiction.
English law in its strictest sense applies within the jurisdiction of England and Wales. Whilst Wales now has a devolved Assembly, any legislation which that Assembly enacts is enacted in particular circumscribed policy areas defined by the Government of Wales Act 2006, other legislation of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, or by orders in council given under the authority of the 2006 Act. Furthermore that legislation is, as with any by-law made by any other body within England and Wales, interpreted by the undivided judiciary of England and Wales.
The essence of English common law is that it is made by judges sitting in courts, applying their common sense and knowledge of legal precedent (stare decisis) to the facts before them. A decision of the highest appeal court in England and Wales, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, is binding on every other court in the hierarchy, and they will follow its directions. For example, there is no statute making murder illegal. It is a common law crime - so although there is no written Act of Parliament making murder illegal, it is illegal by virtue of the constitutional authority of the courts and their previous decisions. Common law can be amended or repealed by Parliament; murder, by way of example, carries a mandatory life sentence today, but had previously allowed the death penalty.
England and Wales are constituent countries of the United Kingdom, which is a member of the European Union. Hence, EU law is a part of English law. The European Union consists mainly of countries which use civil law and so the civil law system is also in England in this form. The European Court of Justice can direct English and Welsh courts on the meaning of areas of law in which the EU has passed legislation.
The oldest written law currently in force is the Distress Act, part of the Statute of Marlborough, 1267 (52 Hen. 3). Three sections of Magna Carta, originally signed in 1215 and a landmark in the development of English law, are extant but arguably they date to the consolidation of the act in 1297.
United Kingdom is a state consisting of several legal jurisdictions: (a) England and Wales, (b) Scotland and (c) Northern Ireland. The formerly separate jurisdiction of Wales was absorbed into England by Henry VII Tudor. By the Act of Union, 1707 Scotland retained an independent church and judiciary. Ireland lost its independent parliament later than Scotland but its established Anglican church was historically an archbishopric of the Church of England headed by the king or queen and deferring to the Archbishop of Canterbury; for the most part the legal system is separate from that of England and Wales. The legal system of Ireland is completely separate from that of the U.K. now, but that of Northern Ireland retains some links from the Imperial past, inasmuch as it is based on the medieval English common law system, there are many English statutes from the time of Poynings' Law on that apply in Northern Ireland and there is an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom from the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland.
"The civilized portion of the earth is divided up into certain units of territory in each of which a particular law proper to that territory alone prevails, and that territory is for legal purposes a unit."
"§ 2.2. What Determines the State. — It has been seen that the existence of separate legal units within the dominions of a single sovereign is a fact, the result of historical accidents… when Hawaii was annexed to the United States it remained a separate legal unit.
Although devolution has accorded some degree of political autonomy to Wales in the National Assembly for Wales, it did not have sovereign law-making powers until after the 2007 Welsh general election when the Government of Wales Act 2006 granted powers to the Welsh Assembly Government to enact some primary legislation. The legal system administered through both civil and criminal courts remains unified throughout England and Wales. This is different from the situation of Northern Ireland, for example, which did not cease to be a distinct jurisdiction when its legislature was suspended (see Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972).
The first schedule of the Interpretation Act 1978, defines the following terms: "British Islands", "England", and "United Kingdom". The use of the term "British Isles" is virtually obsolete in statutes and, when it does appear, it is taken to be synonymous with "British Islands". For interpretation purposes, England includes a number of specified elements:
Wales and Berwick Act 1746, section 3 (entire Act now repealed) formally incorporated Wales and Berwick-upon-Tweed into England. But section 4 Welsh Language Act 1967 provided that references to England in future Acts of Parliament should no longer include Wales (see now Interpretation Act 1978, Schedule 3, part 1). But Dicey & Morris say (at p28) "It seems desirable to adhere to Dicey's [the original] definition for reasons of convenience and especially of brevity. It would be cumbersome to have to add "or Wales" after "England" and "or Welsh" after "English" every time those words are used.
Since 1189, English law has been described as a common law rather than a civil law system (i.e. there has been no major codification of the law, and judicial precedents are binding as opposed to persuasive). This may have been due to the Norman conquest of England, which introduced a number of legal concepts and institutions from Norman law into the English system. In the early centuries of English common law, the justices and judges were responsible for adapting the Writ system 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 Merchant began in the Pie-Powder Courts (a corruption of the French "pieds-poudrés" or "dusty feet", meaning ad hoc marketplace courts). As Parliament developed in strength 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.