To the Letter…

30 05 2008

Dictionary.com, the only dictionary I currently have to hand provides me with the suitable starting point for this post. The site offers 27 different defintions for the word ‘law’. I will not elaborate any further on what these definitions are, feel free to look it up. The point that I am interested in is actually an amalgamation of the following two definitions:

“the principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people, whether in the form of legislation or of custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision”

and

“any rule or injunction that must be obeyed”

I thought this was reasonably clear. The law, as far as I’m concerned, is something that, if broken, should be punishable to some degree or other, whether it be a slap on the wrists, a fine, or a jail term. Except that it no longer is such a thing. There are though, it seems, in society various degrees of the law. Some adhere to the rebellious ‘laws are made to be broken’ phrase. Others, who consider themselves ‘law-abiding citizens’, endeavour to lead a legal life. Those of the first camp seem keen to convince those of the second camp that they are boring or uninspired. Then there are those who float between the two trawling out the phrase ‘the law’s an ass’ to justify breaking it.

My personal pet hate is cyclists on the pavement. Clearly, in the law, cyclists should not be on the pavement (and they should wear helmets, but that’s a different matter), yet they bomb down pavements with scant regard for those walking on them. Maybe this is just in Birmingham, I somehow doubt it, but maybe. However this is one of those laws that people either a) don’t know, or b) choose to ignore, after all, the law’s an ass, right? A little bit of innocent law-breaking is fine, as long as no-one gets hurt. Right?

I’m not convinced. I know that in many places the law is probably dated. I know in many places it can be a pain to stick to. Yet I return to the notion that it is there for a reason. Someone, somewhere, has decided that we need such a law to prevent something happening. If you break it there deserves to be consequences.

About a month ago, I got a letter telling me that I was being charged for jumping a red light. I do not really remember the incident, and was not aware, at the time, that I had done it. Apparently I had. What I do remember is that the road was deathly quiet on the day. There were no other cars nearby. There were no pedestrians or cyclists either. My action hadn’t affected anybody, it hadn’t had an affect on anything, other than getting me to my destination slightly quicker. Yet I was, correctly, charged £60 for breaking the law. I accepted this. I had broken the law, and deserved my punishment.

Yet it seems that people are happy to break the law if they know that they can get away with it. I know I’m being idealistic here, but I think this is the wrong attitude to start with. It’s easy, for example to break the law in relation to drinking underage (it was this post that made me consider this whole point), because, apparently, it isn’t hurting anyone apart from the people who break it. It is after all, something small, not worth worrying about in relation to bigger problems of society. And the police cannot monitor all underage drinking everywhere. Therefore it is fine to break the law.

Now I realise I am being too much of an idealist here, but I maintain that it is the wrong attitude to have, the law is there for a reason and as much as anyone disagrees with it, it must be adhered to if we are to help maintain a society which does not collapse on itself. Perhaps that is the problem at the moment, perhaps we are too willing to turn a blind eye to people breaking the law on a small scale, and can do little when this escalates? Perhaps. I don’t really know. I do know that laws prevent anarchy and rebellion, and go a long way to aiding our own democratic system. That is why I believe they should be taken seriously. Right the way through. It isn’t just the ‘bigger’ crimes which should be a concern, everything, ranging from not having a bus ticket, to buying alcohol underage, to stabbing someone, to burglary should be punishable. The more mundane crimes should still be punished. Even if it is just a slap on the wrist.

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