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Law - what is it good for?
on 3 August 2013
Law, what is it good for? Quite a lot, actually, it turns out.
I found this book very well written and covering many aspects of law. The author has experience of various legal systems, so we learn not only English law, but about US, European, South African, Hong Kong, Chinese and various others. The book covers the difference between common law - which we have in the UK and US - and civil law which is on the continent. It looks at the different branches of law - criminal, company, environmental etc - gives us some history and also looks into the future, with fascinating discussions on the law and human rights with respect to surveillance, and also legal issues that arise from the internet.
The book looks at different criticisms of law - for example what of the fact that the greedy bankers who gambled the stability of the economy just to make themselves even richer were not charged with any crime, never appeared in court, and did not go to jail; whereas the poor who rioted as a result of the harsh austerity measures imposed by the Con-Dem Government were sent to prison for stealing a bottle of water. How is that fair?
The answer is it isn't, but that isn't the whole story of the law. It was the law that took companies in court in the early twentieth century for lying on their advertisements. Have you ever seen these old adverts from Victorian or Edwardian times? "This is guaranteed to make your hair grow", "this tonic will stop you getting ill" - why don't we have them any more (or not as obviously false, anyway). The answer is someone took one of those companies to court and won, and now the claims made about a product have to be substantiated in some way.
Another example is MacDonald's coffee. I know on the few occasions I have bought it, it was ridiculously hot and I burnt my mouth. I didn't realise someone has actually taken MacDonald's to court after they spilt the coffee and got third degree burns - MacDonald's had to pay out millions.
So law is really the measure of what people are prepared to fight for in society. If we want a better environment, fairer employment laws, equal rights, the ability to send greedy bankers to jail, we have to fight for these laws, and have to challenge political parties to promise to pass these laws.
Law is really about justice, if we want a fairer society we need to elect the right politicians who will work for the 99%, not the 1%.