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1.5.3 Law

English law, the law of England and Wales (but not Scotland and Northern Ire­land), is known generally as the common law (as opposed to civil law).

The essence of the common law is that it is made by judges sitting in courts, applying their common sense and knowledge of legal precedent to the fact before them. Because common law consisted of using what had gone before as a guide, "ancient useage", common law places great emphasis on precedents. Thus a deci­sion of the highest court in England and Wales, the House of Lords (the judicial members of which are referred to as Law Lords) is binding on every other court in the hierarchy, and they will follow its directions.

Precedent continues to be applied across both civil and criminal law to this, allowing for decisions made in one Court regarding a set of facts and their inter­pretation in law to be applied to like circumstances in the future. Civil law for­malises the relationships between individuals or organisations, while criminal law punishes offenders.

Because of the principle of the common law, there is no Act of Parliament (the normal method for creating laws in the UK) making murder illegal. It is still a com­mon law crime - so although there is no written Act passed by 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 Common law can be amended or repealed by Parliament, for example, murder carries a mandatory life sentence today, but had previously allowed the death penalty.

A fundamental concept in any legal dealing in England is that a person or organi­sation is innocent until proved guilty and they do not have to prove their innocence.

The second key concept is that public figures and Civil Servants have a re­sponsibility to set an example by examplary behaviour and any infringement of the law is dealt with harshly and in a very public manner. There is no "politi­cians' immunity", there are no 'special' ID cards and no cars have 'special' num-berplates. Some recent examples are: Cherie Blair, the Prime Minister's wife taken to court and fined for not paying enough money for her journey on the London Underground, The Queen's daughter Princess Anne taken to court and fined for not keeping her dogs sufficiently under control on the estate of Windsor Castle which is a public park, and the Chief Constable of Derbyshire taken to court and heavily fined in 2005 for driving at 97 mph (miles per hour) on a road where the speed limit was 70 mph.

However, while England and Wales retains the common law, the UK is part of the European Union and European Union Law is effective in the UK. The European Union consists mainly of countries which use civil law and so the civil law system is also in England in this form, and the European Court of Justice, a predominantly civil law court, can direct UK courts on the meaning of EU law.

The Central Criminal Court, commonly known as The Old Bailey (a bailey being part of a castle), is a Crown Court (criminal high court) in London, dealing with major criminal cases for England and Wales, as well as Greater London. It is one of the most famous courts in the world. It stands on the site of the mediaeval Newgate Gaol, in the street also called Old Bailey.

The central dome of the building is capped with a stat­ue of Justice, blindfolded and holding a sword and set of scales right.

Law enforcement

The British police are 49 similar but independent police services which operate in the United Kingdom. The largest isthe Metropolitan Police Service in London, better known as the London Met or Scotland Yard, named after the original loca­tion of their headquarters.

Unlike the police in most other countries, the Brit­ish police are not routinely armed, except in Northern Ireland, at airports, nuclear facilities, and on special protection duties.

Although the "Bobby on the Beat" is a popular image that is still visible today (see photo in 2.2.3), the British po- lice are today substantially helped by technology. There are now over 4.5m CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) cameras installed across the UK (see 2.2.3) and much rou- tine traffic policing has been replaced by flash cameras.

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