A new feature by Law Graduate Seema Kavi
Over the next few months Seema, a local girl recently graduated from Oxford University will be writing about the law and how we can better understand it.
Readers, it’s time to take the law into our own hands. No, I’m not encouraging you to drive at 80mph up the right hand side of Syston High Street, play loud rock music into the early hours, or indeed break the law in any other way. But I am inviting you to take heed of the age old maxim that ‘knowledge is power’. Whether you’re a fourteen year old wondering whether or not that music download was quite as legal as you made out to your parents, or a sixty year old victim of age discrimination, the more you know about the laws affecting you, the more you will understand about why they are in place, and the better your chances of being able to assert your rights.
Each article will tackle an abstract and difficult legal topic, but by illustrating their application using everyday examples or topical news stories, I aim to share a little insight into this mysterious creature that is the law.
For our first step on this journey, I have tried to provide some clarity on the basic working of the English legal system.
Legal jargon? I beg your pardon?
Law has a reputation of being highly opaque, whether simply challenging a parking ticket or initiating the cumbersome process of attaining a divorce, the layman is often left feeling confused, frustrated and out of pocket.
There are four key features we should highlight in order to attain a basic understanding of how law works.
Hard and Soft.
There are effectively two ‘types’ of law which have a symbiotic relationship, hard law and soft law. Hard law, also known as black-letter law refers to Acts of Parliaments. Following the economic crisis of 2008, you will have heard of ‘floods of legislation’ quickly passed to help regulate the financial markets. Soft law is the interpretation of this legislation by the judiciary in courtrooms. As each interaction between individuals is different, every case raises new questions which necessitate further interpretation by judges. For centuries the judges have interpreted and developed laws as new cases have been brought to their attention.
Everyday encounters such as noticing a policeman walking down Syston High Street, or reading the notices stating your ‘statutory rights won’t be affected’ at every cash register in the Syston Town Square appear to be isolated examples of law in operation. However upon further inspection it becomes evident that these examples are better thought of as cogs in a machine that makes up English law. The law acts as a deterrent and also as an incentive. Seeing bobbies on the beat relates the message that our society is a lawful one, whilst having your statutory rights guaranteed by laws, incentivises you to make purchases as you know you will not be sold faulty goods without remuneration of some sort.
Every legal practice we have is the result of some sort of compromise. There are competing interests in every interaction between individuals or large institutions, and it falls to the law to strike this balance. For example, it may seem frustrating to have to drive at 30mph past a school at 6pm when it is still light. However the outcome of a child being run over is far worse and far more worthy of attention than a driver’s few minutes of frustration, hence the law is weighted in the favour of the schoolchildren, who are more deserving of the law’s protection in that instance.
Dynamic and Responsive.
Often, the lawmaker is thought of as some invisible individual who has whispered into the ears of the government dictating what the law should be. This is not the case. Laws may be created by the highest legal bodies in the country, however law is influenced by far more that just this. Given that law is omnipresent in all parts of society, it has to adapt to meet the changing socio-political and economic environment. Politicians listen to the media, to demonstrations, to petitions and to influential members of society who put forward proposals through their local MPs. On that note, in the admittedly slightly paraphrased, wise words of Cheryl Cole ‘you’ve got to fight, fight, fight, fight, fight for this law’, and maybe just maybe, you’ll be the one to drive the law machine into a new direction.
Look out for my next article, where I’ll be tackling the fascinating and contentious subject of Human Rights law.