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Constitution Edit

The United Kingdom has no written consitution and its constitutional law is based on parliamentary tradition and statutory law.

The United Kingdom has a unified structure although Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have limited self-government. The head of state is the sovereign, currently Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended to the throne in 1952. However, the queen answers to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet and is now constitutionally required to follow their advice.

The Prime Minister serves as long as he has the confidence of the House of Commons, but elections to the House must take place at least once every five years, although the Prime Minister may call a general election at any time. An election must also be held if the Prime Minister loses a vote of non-confidence in the House and no other party leader can command a majority

The Cabinet appoints all judicial officers, who generally serve for life.

Judiciary Edit

England has a unified court system with separate courts for criminal cases and civil cases. Most minor offences, and preliminary hearings for major crimes are heard by magistrates, who are generally persons without legal training.

Decisions in the superior courts may be appealed to the Court of Appeal of England and Wales in those regions. Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar courts, with the Scottish court having a judiciary skilled in the Scottish Civil Code.

Recently, the United Kingdom created the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, which replaced the House of Lords as the highest court in the country.

Passing laws Edit

Most bills may either be started in the House of Commons or the House of Lords, although taxation and spending bills may only be started in the Commons. A bill must have a majority vote in both houses before it becomes law, although the role of the House of Lords in blocking legislation from the Commons is now quite limited.

Civil law Edit

Except for Scotland, private disputes are settled under the principles of the common law. Since the passage of the Judicature Act, law courts may heard both cases in common law and in equity.

Criminal Law Edit

The United Kingom has a unified Criminal Code, but also continues to recognize common law offences (although the last conviction under a common law offence was in the 1960s).

There is no prosecution office in England. Police are responsible for paying attorneys to appear on behalf of the Crown, and although many criminal lawyers specialize in either Crown or defence work, there is no prohibition on a lawyer appearing for the Crown at one time and for defendants at another.

England has a system of Legal Aid to pay lawyers for indigent defendants.

Legal profession Edit

Lawyers in the United Kingdom must choose between being a solicitor or a barrister, although the distinction between the two is rapidly being eliminated. Traditionally, solicitors represented clients in the Chancery or Equity courts, and barristers represented clients in Common Law courts. More recently, solicitors were allowed to "solicit" (i.e., be directly hired by) clients, but barristers could only be hired by solicitors. However, only barristers were allowed to appear in court and file pleadings in civil cases. A "firm of solicitors" is generally a partnership, but a "firm of barristers" is only a loose conglomeration of independent barristers who rent office space and share clerical help.

The education for both professions is identical, and is obtained at the undergraduate level (one "reads law" at university). After graduation, a graduate must work for a law firm and pass exams before being recognized as a member of the profession.

Barristers in London must belong to one of the four "Inns of Court" in order to practice in the city. However, in practice, the Inns take all comers and allow barristers to "squat" if they have no formal relationship with any of the firms that have offices in the Inns.

Resources Edit

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