The phrase is from Psalm 119–and it’s not one I ever thought I’d agree with. Decades ago I volunteered at a youth centre and we used to play The Raft Game. Not the popular video game but the pragmatic, utilitarian thought experiment that’s the ethical equivalent of Musical Chairs – with no music and a succession of democratically agreed murders. Week in, week out, as supplies dwindled among the shipwrecked survivors crowded onto a rope-tied bundle of balsa wood, first in the water was the lawyer.
Why? Because we all agreed that they were useless parasites whose only purpose was to trick you. I’m not saying that some of them are not. (That’s the double negative version of some of them may well be.) I just understand now that trickiness is not really what the law is for.
Recent events, among them joining and standing for election on behalf of a political party, have changed my perspective. During Lockdown—most of which was illegal, and the rest just downright dangerous—the law was our best friend and, surprisingly, it still is.
Wielding my rights as a citizen, I empowered people to shop and study unmasked, accessing goods and services without let or hindrance. I got a Russell Group university to update its door policy, forced a (former?) spy to stop using her public platform to doxx me, saved the professional career of a promising young artist—who’d been banned even from his degree course Zoom classes for not wearing a mask – and generally got abusers to back off, [£√©≤] off, and get back in their box because I could prove they were breaking the law.
In this endeavour, I’ve been greatly helped in various ways. Firstly by paying attention to those compulsory HR courses that most professionals have to do these days when employed by any kind of company. Phrases like “anticipatory duty” may sound tedious but try flinging it in some lanky teen’s face next time they try to ask why you’re not wearing wear a mask at the door of a hardware store or a polling station, along with “you’re breaking 3 Acts of Parliament, 3!”, without breaking stride. It works like magic. Cos Pimpled Pete doesn’t know the law, and you do.
Secondly, by listening to friends. So many ordinary people have legal know-how. Tune in! Yes, I advise you to check what they tell you but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the law it’s that it belongs to us. All of us. Not just the legal professionals.
Thirdly, by studying it at university. Don’t panic, you don’t need to do the LLB course, there are free online courses too, from the Open University. At the moment, I’m working my way through the OU course 12 Introductory Steps to Law and I produced the PDF below as a mnemonic (memory aid). It’s English law, and I have some questions about these categories of Public/ Private; Civil/ Criminal Law:
- Where does Equity fit into this scheme?
- What’s the relationship with Customary and Tribal Law? (I’m thinking of the Nollywood legal drama Castle & Castle, the Plaints of Welsh Law familiar to the readers of the mediaeval monk detective Cadfael, and also of Irish Brehon Law)
- I often read, elsewhere, that the English system is based on Common Law whereas the Scots is Civil. The OU courses specify that in Scotland we in fact have a mixed system, and that there is some fruitful cross-fertilisation both sides the Tweed. I don’t think that use of the term civil is the same as this one. Here I think it refers to law that isn’t about criminal matters but there I think it described a system of law.
- My intuition, and it’s only that, is that the difference between Scots and English law is that the former tends to be deductive whereas the latter tends to be inductive. In other words (despite Arthur Conan Doyle using the term to mean the opposite) the English system is all about evidence and working back from there towards theoretical positions whereas the Scots system starts with legal theory and attempts to apply that to particular cases. I could be quite wrong. What do you think?
I think I’ve got more studying to do and I intend to blog about my legal studies journey. (If that doesn’t diminish my followers nothing will!) I’ll open the comments on this post—I don’t usually do that as I have enough to answer on social media but I’m taking a break to get some writing done. So if you have answers to my questions please comment.
Thanks to Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan for releasing his image Lady Justice Silhouette into the Public Domain.