Natural Law vs. Positivism

The philosophy of law is a complex and in depth study, which requires an intimate knowledge of the legal process in general as well as a philosophical mind. For centuries, the scope and nature of law has been debated and argued from various view points, and intense intellectual discussion has arisen from the fundamental question of ‘what is law’. In response, several major schools of thought have been born, of which the natural law scholars and positivists are two of the most notable. These two camps hold strictly contrasting views over the role and function of law in certain circumstances, and have provided in themselves platforms for criticism and debated which continue to be relevant today.

Although the classifications of natural law and positivism are frequently used, it is important to remember that they cover a very wide range of academic opinion. Even within each camp, there are those veering towards more liberal or more conservative understandings, and there is also naturally a grey area. Having said that, academics and philosophers can be enveloped by one of the categories on the basis of certain fundamental principles within their writings and opinions.

Natural law has always been linked to ultra-human considerations, that is to say a spiritual or moral influence determinant of their understandings of the way law operates. One of the founding principles is that an immoral law can be no law at all, on the basis that a government needs moral authority to be able to legislate. For this reason, natural law theories have been used to justify anarchy and disorder at ground level. This had lead to widespread criticism of the natural law principles, which have had to be refined and developed to fit with modern thinking. On the flip side, natural law has been used as a definitive method of serving ‘justice’ to war criminals and former-dictators after their reign.

Some of the strongest criticisms of natural law have come from the positivist camp. Positivism holds at its centre the belief that law is not affected by morality, but in essence is the source of moral considerations. Because morality is a subjective concept, positivism suggests that the law is the source of morality, and that no extra-legal considerations should be taken in to account. Positivism has been criticised for allowing extremism and unjust actions through law. It has also been suggested that positivism in its strictest sense is flawed because it ignores the depth and breadth of language in legal enactment, which means the positive law can be read in different lights based on differing meanings of the same word. Despite this, positivism has been seen as one of the fundamental legal theories in the development of modern legal philosophy over the last few decades, and is winning widespread favour through a contemporary academic revival.

Natural law and positivism have been the subject of an ongoing academic debate into the nature of law and its role within society. Both respective legal schools have criticised and built on one and others theories and principles to create a more sophisticated philosophical understanding of the legal construct. Although the debate is set to continue with a new generation of promising legal theorists, both natural law and positivism have gained widespread respect for their consistency and close analyses of the structure of law.

Minimising Tax Liability On Death

When we die, most of us leave behind a fairly substantial and intricate web of assets and liabilities, including money, our home and our other possessions. In most jurisdictions, there arises a liability to tax on death that must be borne from the totality of the estate, and this can lead to a significant reduction of inheritance for our loved ones. Having said that, there are a number of ways in which liability to tax on death can be vastly reduced whilst still ensuring sufficient legacies and provisions mortis causa. In this article, we will look at some of the most salient ways in which one can seek to minimise his estate’s liability to tax on death, and ways in which careful planning can help increase the legacies we leave behind.

Tax liability on death usually arises through bad inheritance planning, and a lack of legal consideration. Of course to a certain extent it is unavoidable, but with some care and consideration it is possible to reduce liability overall. There’s absolutely no point in making legacies in a will which won’t be fulfilled until after death and which haven’t been properly considered in light of the relevant legal provisions. If you haven’t done so already, it is extremely advisable to consult an attorney on minimising liability on death, and on effective estate planning to avoid these potential problems and to ensure your family are left with more in their pockets.

If you intend to leave legacies to family members of a specific quantity or nature, it may be wise to do so at least a decade before you die, which will ultimately divert any potential legal challenges upon death which would give rise to tax liability. Obviously there is seldom any way to tell precisely when you are going to die, but making legacies at least a decade beforehand avoids any liability that might be attached on death. In effect, donating during your lifetime well before you die means you can still provide for your family and friend without having to pay the corresponding tax bill.

Another good way to minimise tax liability is to get rid of assets during your lifetime by way of gifts to friends and family. One of the most effective ways to do this is to transfer your house to your children during your lifetime, or to move the house into a trust for which you are a beneficiary. This means you remain functionally the owner, but legally, the asset doesn’t feature in your estate on death and therefore doesn’t attract tax liability. Again, it is of great importance to ensure that the transfer is made well before death to avoid potential challenges and potential inclusion in the estate which would lead to inheritance tax liability.

Death is a particularly important phase in our lives, particularly in legal terms. The change between owning our own property and distributing ownerless property provides a range of challenges, and the controversial tax implications can cause serious problems. Without careful planning and an expert hand, it can be easy to amass a significant tax bill for your loved ones to bear. However, with the right direction, it can be easy to use the relevant mechanisms to minimise the potential liability to tax on your estate upon death.

Positivist Legal Theory

The question of the character of law is primarily a simple one, although it presents a diversity of argumentation to make it an academic favourite and a thought-provoking topic of debate. Positivism is the term describing the school of legal thought that follows that law is an authoritative, binding, regulatory construct. It holds at its core the idea that law is enacted as an authoritative statement of how society must behave. It rejects the concept of any connection with morality, and suggests that there is no room for subjective consideration of the law – the law is, with no room for negotiation. Positivism has been criticised, particularly in Germany, as a means of affording tyranny and extremism to enter mainstream politics. It is said that the general concept of accepting and enforcing the law by virtue of its status allows unjust laws enforcing prejudice and discrimination respect by virtue of their enactment, placing an indefeasible trust in the legislature. As compared to other legal theories, positivism has gathered a great deal of respect and support across the world, making it one of the most prominent considerations of the nature of law.

Positivism places strength on the rules as they are laid down, on the premise that the process of the legislature is the time for challenge and interpretation. Although this may generally be the case, it does throw up some problems in relation to the practical consequences of certain enactments, which reflect better with experience the level of effectiveness. Another feature of the positivist movement is that rather than be guided by moral considerations, the law can be used in certain circumstances to determine what is right and what is wrong, on the basis of its status as in accordance with or against the law. Again this causes problems that have formed the basis of much academic argumentation in the area.

One of the main criticisms of positivism as a theory came in light of the linguistic considerations of HLA Hart, a leading international legal philosopher. He stated that the positive law is far from fixed in nature, for the simple reason that language is not fixed. For example, the famous scenario offered for this point is a sign in a local park stating ‘no vehicles allowed’. This is by no means a fixed and definitive statement of the law, because ‘vehicles’ can be taken to mean a broad range of things. For the most part it will be fairly obvious what falls within the scope – no cars, vans, trucks or trains would be permitted. But what about skateboards? Bicycles? Are these covered within the definition of vehicles? There is no way of knowing from the text exactly what is intended by the law, so to positivism in this strict sense is flawed. Rather, a more sophisticated approach is required, which allows the law to be read in the light of pragmatic and policy considerations. This makes positivism more palatable as a concept, and strengthens its validity at the heart of legal philosophy.

The Scope and Nature of the Criminal Law

In our private lives, the area of law we will experience the most, either directly or indirectly would have to be the criminal law. Not necessarily through contravening its principals, the individual citizen will more commonly encounter its breadth in the course of their everyday lives, considering as a factor the legal ramifications of any desired conduct or decision in the decision making process. For most of us, we tend to live our lives within these predetermined boundaries with no second thought or question as to the morality of the prohibited option nor the moral authority behind it. In this article, it is proposed to look at the nature and scope of the criminal law in our society, and to discuss whether as an entity it is too intrusive, or whether it is naturally a required aspect of regulating society.

It is often said academically that the citizen enjoys freedom to act as he wishes in his life, subject to the regulatory provisions of the criminal law and the criminal justice system. It is thought that as citizens of a particular country, largely at freedom to choose where we live in the world, we impliedly accept the authority of the relevant legal provisions which, for the most part, regulate on a moral level. Of course there are exceptions, i.e. criminal laws of a regulatory or secondary nature which do not directly bear any moral message, such as speeding limits or parking restrictions. So, then, to what extent does the criminal law reflect morality, and further from what source is this morality derived?

The criminal law is said to operate in mind of the public good, and the benefit of society. It could, therefore, be argued to be crossing the boundaries into serious restrictions on liberty when it regulates personal conduct like drug use which may not have any wider impact than on that of the person indulging accordingly. Why should the criminal law impose restrictions on what a person can do with his or her own body? Surely our own freewill is a good enough justification for acting outwith the scope of the law in these types of scenario?

Furthermore an interesting area of the criminal law is potential liability for omissions. In this sense, the citizen can actually be punished without acting at all in a specific way. This takes the criminal law beyond a regulatory framework for the public good into an actual coercive force to make people positively act in a certain way. For example, in some jurisdictions there is a legal duty to report a road traffic accident. This means a citizen who is aware of the occurrence of such will have committed a criminal offence where he does not act in the prescribed manner. Again, this is surely affording a broad scope to the criminal law, which may be seen by some as intruding on the fundamental freedoms and values upon which most modern nations were built.

Executive Compensation to the People

There is a bill in the progress before the House of Representatives that is trying to put the issue of the pay and compensation package that executives of publicly traded companies receive in front of stockholders. This bill is actually expected to pass through the house successfully; however, it is unclear how well the Senate will receive it. Is this bill the right direction for a modern America, or do we need to consider more intimately the economic implications of such a decision?

The White House has already formally registered its opposition to such a plan, however the backers are unconcerned. Many feel that the compensation plans of the major officers of the publicly traded companies should be tied to the performance of the company and the officers themselves, and not to the figures that the officers wish to receive.

This bill if passed could place an enormous amount of power into the hands of stockholders who are upset with the way several companies have behaved lately, with declining profits and horrible business practices while the officers of the companies have picked up large compensation packages that include their salary, benefits, and stock options. Each officer can end up with hundreds if not thousands in profits even while the company is performing badly, which stockholders believe is an inequitable outcome.

Many have wondered if the officers in charge of these companies would tighten the belts on spending if their own pay was tied to their performance rather than their wishes, and with numerous companies falling short of profits with huge pay packages going out, and raises occurring almost yearly many investors have started complaining loudly.

While current President Bush has urged the officers of the companies to step up and take responsibility. He has also said that it is not an issue that the government should become involved in. How far should the government extend into a private business? How many people would really feel comfortable with the idea of having the government determine what their pay could be? Most Americans can agree that they would not like the idea of the government interfering with their job and pays.

At the same time, while most Americans do not wish to have the government intruding into their jobs and careers, many still want some measures put into place to hold the executives accountable who are responsible for multi-million and multi-billion companies that employ hundreds to thousands of people.

Many have argued that the concept is nothing new; it is similar to ideas that are currently in place in countries such as Sweden, Australia and even in Britain. With examples such as those to follow, it makes people wonder if this actually does have the chance to pass through the House of Representatives and the Senate once the voting time has arrived.

With time as the key factor, there is scheduled to be a vote on the issue in the House of Representatives in the very near future, which is very much expected to pass without much opposition. It is the next step in the Senate that is where it starts getting sticky with people unsure of the results once the voting in the Senate starts. However, with increasing support from the people, many of whom work for companies affected by this issue, there is scope for a mass political influence, which will certainly make the outcome interesting.