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Kingdom of Sierra
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This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of the
Kingdom of Sierra


The legal system of Sierra is based primarily on the Anglo-American common law. Although the law has primacy over Sierra, it does apply to the entire Kingdom, except in cases of constitutional law evoked under the Charter. Instead, there are separate legal systems for Hawaii and the Deseret, the other two of the three constituent countries of the Kingdom.

Over the years, the Sierran legal system has incorporated aspects of Sierran civil law. For historical reasons, Sierra has also inherited legal traditions of Spanish law from the legacy of its time as a Spanish and then Mexican territory, particularly in regards towards community property and water rights.

The most important source of law derives from the Constitution which outlines the basic functions, responsibilities, and powers of the Sierran federal government with the concept of rule of law entrenched into the document and legal tradition. There are four primary sources of law: constitutional law, statutory law (from the Parliament or the monarch), regulatory law (from the executive branch), and the common law (includes both private and criminal law deriving from the courts system). Treaties and other international agreements are other sources of law as well. Nearly all federal law is complied and codified in the Sierra Federal Code, while the federal criminal law is indexed separately in the Sierra Penal Code.

Federal law takes precedence over provincial and local law through the Supremacy Doctrine established by the 1862 Supreme Court case Johnston-Phillips v. Province of the Inland Empire. Together, the Constitution and federal law, stand as the ultimate law in Sierra, and holds supremacy over all laws except in areas where the federal government is expressly prohibited by the Constitution and/or where the scope of law is delegated specifically to the provinces.

Most laws citizens encounter and experience are provincial laws. Under the Sierran federal system, each province are plenary sovereigns and have their own legal system and government. Provinces are largely responsible for the establishment of their own contract, criminal, family, property, and tort laws, so long as such laws do not conflict any federal/constitutional laws.

Constitution

Constitution of Sierra

The Constitution

The Constitution, alongside federal laws, is the fundamental and supreme law of Sierra. The only law within Sierra that supersedes the Constitution is the Charter, which applies to the entire Kingdom, and enhances the functions and provisions of the Constitution on a larger scale. If there are any laws passed by any federal, provincial, territorial, or local government that contradicts the Constitution, and the Supreme Court of Sierra finds them unconstitutional, the Court has the constitutionally-endowed power to invalidate such laws.

The Constitution consists of a preamble, twenty-nine articles, and six amendments and its full corpus is applicable to the incorporated territory of the Kingdom. Within the Constitution, it describes the functions, responsibilities, powers, and constraints of the three civil branches of government, the monarchy, the federal system between the national and provincial governments, and civil protections and rights to its citizens.

As a consequence of Supreme Court decisions distinguishing the provinces and the territories, the Constitution is only partially applicable to Sierra's unincorporated territories in which Parliament has the power to decide which parts may apply or not. Although the Constitution can apply in the territories ex proprio vigore through the fact that the territories are subject to Parliament (or in the case of the crown dependencies, the Crown), they have not signed the Constitution ab idem as signatories as member states of the Kingdom, and consequently do not constitute a part of the Kingdom officially and therefore, are not necessarily protected by the Constitution.

Levels of law

Federal law

The Constitution gives Parliament the legislative power to pass statutes and the Monarch to issue edicts for certain limited purposes. Both are federal laws that apply to the entire Kingdom. Regulations set forth by the executive ministries also carry the force of law through the principle of general deference established by the 1982 Supreme Court's decision in the Bank of the Occident v. Banking and Financial Services Administration Agency case.

Like all other countries under the common law system, court decisions and judicial interpretations of lawsuits, including those of the Supreme Court, carry the force of law under the tradition of stare decisis. Through the federal system, all lower courts within a province defer to the province's highest court, but none is bound by decisions of courts in other provinces. Only the Supreme Court has the power to hold binding decisions for all courts through a single ruling. In practice, however, any decisions settled at the federal courts of appeal which do not reach the Supreme Court are also binding to the provinces which stand-in a Supreme Court opinion.

Statutes and edicts

If the monarch provided assent to a bill proposed by Parliament, or Parliament overrode the monarch's veto, the bill becomes law, assigned a statutory citation, and organized into a catalog of session laws passed by Parliament during the legislative year. Public laws are subsequently codified into the Sierra Federal Code (or, if the bill pertains to criminal law, the Sierra Penal Code) which is officially updated biennially at the end of every legislative year. Both codes are arranged by subject matter, and all laws are organized in chronological order within each subject based on the date of their enactment.

Edicts are laws issued directly from the Monarch who may do so only in times of emergency and distress. A royal prerogative of the Monarch, it is one of the few powers the Monarch retains which cannot be conferred to their representative, the Prime Minister. Like legislative statutes, the Supreme Court can declare an edict unconstitutional and therefore, nullify it. The issuance of edicts has always been controversial, and its scope has often been limited to quelling rebellions or ordering an agency to comply with court decisions. A controversial example of an edict was issued by Smith II in 2015 where he authorized the use of military force against Mexico despite a defeated bill proposing such use in Parliament. Two months later, after harsh criticisms and protest against the edict as well as threats for impeachment, the king abdicated in favor of his daughter, Elisa.

Regulations

In order to enforce the law, Parliament passes statutes authorizing federal agencies broad control over its implementation. Regulations are internal, administrative laws and rules issued by federal agencies that have the full effect of law, created in response to a statute passed by Parliament or an edict by the Monarch which had granted such agencies the authority and power. So long as the agencies' interpretation and implementation of passed statutes are reasonable, courts must defer to its effect as binding law. The Prime Minister's executive orders and proclamations also fall under the category of regulations.

All regulations and executive decisions are officially compiled and codified in the Sierra Administrative Code annually. It is supplemented by Sierra's government gazette, the Bunker Record, which documents public notices, proposed rules, and regulations.

Common law

Supreme Court of Sierra

The Supreme Court of Sierra

All of the provinces and territories in Sierra follow and use the common law legal tradition as the primary system. Under the common law system, the Sierran law revolves around the concepts of stare decisis and persuasive precedent where lower courts must follow the orders of higher courts by which they are bound to and where the decisions of previous judges impact future cases simultaneously as referential sources and binding law. While both of these concepts are not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has interpreted the "Case and Controversy Clause" in Article VI, Section II, Subsection I to incorporate precedential effect in cases.

The Constitution establishes the Supreme Court as the highest court in the Kingdom and grants it the sole authority with the official power to hold binding decisions for all courts. Inferior federal courts however, can effectively bind decisions of all the lower courts in nation by de facto as though they functioned as the Supreme Court if the latter does not intervene and override their cases. Each year, the Supreme Court selects and decides on about 230 cases, with the majority of the thousands of filed, petitioned cases from the Courts of Appeal unattended, allowing the decisions from these courts to stand.

When there is no substantial or existing Sierran decision on a particular legal issue, Sierran courts have relied on non-Sierran legal authorities for reference with strong preference to the decisions of American courts. The decisions of United States Supreme Court have been considered to be persuasive in court decisions, and has even been responsible for certain legal doctrines in contemporary Sierran law. The 1938 American case, Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, was cited in Sierra's 1956 case Prescott Construction Ltd. v. Walker, which abolished the concept of general federal common law. The decision directed courts to apply provincial substantive law in diversity cases where there is no relevant federal statute over the matter. While the provincial courts have the power to create laws in the absence of constitutional or statutory provisions, the federal courts generally do not with the exception in few areas of issues.

Provincial law

All of the provinces feature a variance of common law. All twenty-two provinces of Sierra are separate, plenary sovereigns each with their own constitutions, governments, and laws. The provinces have the full authority to create laws over anything that has not been expressively delegated to the federal government, forbidden to the provinces by the Constitution, or restricted by existing federal statutes or international agreements. Unless a provincial case involves a federal issue, the supreme courts of each province are the final arbiters and interpreters of provincial constitutions and laws.

Local law

The relationship between local law and provincial law vary from province to province but all provinces guarantee and delegate a wide range of lawmaking powers to agencies, boards, cities, counties, districts, municipalities, and towns. Laws passed by local governments are generally referred to as ordinances while laws or rules set by other local entities such as water districts are known as regulations. Thus, a citizen may be subject to several layers of local law in addition to provincial and federal laws in any given area of the Kingdom with local government. Some provinces prohibit local ordinances from duplicating provincial law while others even prohibit local governments from passing ordinances in certain issues. In criminal processing cases, local ordinances are treated as provincial law. Consequently, if a citizen is convicted of a crime covered by both an ordinance and provincial law, one may only be tried by one of the two, and not both, which would constitute as double jeopardy.

Types of law

Administrative law

Administrative law comprises statutes, regulations, and orders that deals with the actions and operations of governments and governments agencies, particularly those within the executive branch. Much of Sierran administrative law derives from the inherent need and ability for the federal government to enforce and implement statutes passed by the Parliament. Courts specializing in administrative law review decisions based on issues of procedural fairness and substantive review.

Constitutional law

Constitutional law is an area in Sierran law that deals with the interpretation and application of the Sierran Constitution by the courts. The Constitution itself vests the judiciary powers of government and interpretation of constitutional law to the courts. All laws at the federal, provincial, territorial, and local level must conform with the Constitution. Any laws that contradict or contrary to the Constitution have no force or effect and may be struck down by the courts.

Criminal law

Criminal law is the body of law that pertains to crime, criminal justice, and the prosecution by the state of such crimes. Criminal law does not cover torts, which are handled under the Sierran body of tort law. Generally, crimes result in incarceration and/or financial retribution, and in some provinces, may ultimately result in death depending on the nature and severity of the crime. Community sentences may be used in place of incarceration instead for some crimes.

Both the federal and provincial government may enact criminal law but penalties may differ among the provinces on similar crimes. Federal criminal law is codified in the Sierra Penal Code. All of the provinces have their own codified penal codes as well. All provinces distinguish crime into at least two categories: felonies and misdemeanors with the former including murder and rape while the latter including vandalism and reckless driving. Some include a third category of crime: infractions which may include contempt of court.

There are various protections for the accused, criminals, and convicts. For instance, ex post facto laws are prohibited by the Constitution, preventing individuals from being punished for crimes that had not been crimes at the time of they committed it. Persons who have been tried for a particular crime cannot be tried again for the same crime under the principle of double jeopardy. The presumption of innocence ("innocent until proven guilty"), right to a fair and speedy trial, a trial by peers, freedom from self-incrimination, and the exclusionary rule are other protections of the accused.

Private law

In Sierran law, private law is understood to concern primarily with contracts (obligations between private parties) and torts (civil wrongs that result in legal liability) although it may include family law and property law. Almost all private law is exclusively created and handled at the provincial matter. Contract law regulates the obligations set forth by agreement between private parties while tort law addresses intentional torts, negligence, and strict liability.

See also