Monthly Archives: July 2017

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.

The Fairness of Limited Liability

Limited liability is one of the most successful commercial creations of all time, almost singularly responsible for the growth and expansion of capitalism. Encouraging risk and promoting successful enterprise through both small and large businesses alike, limited liability has been the driving force behind economic success in the Western world and is one of the most celebrated legal creations of all time. But what is it about limited liability that makes it so successful? Indeed, is the structure of limited liability fair as regards creditors, who ultimately bear the brunt of this mechanism?

Limited liability in general means a sacrifice of privacy in return for the benefit of limited personal liability. In layman’s terms, this means that the company promoter is not personally liable for any of the company’s debts, thus encouraging risk and promoting enterprise. For most small businesses, it is a lifeline, and without it the economy would level out and stifle with fewer new start-ups each year. At the back end, however, these businesses leave behind a trail of debts that ultimately result in financial loss for lenders and those that operate on credit terms. This raises the general question of whether limited liability as a creation is fair for the creditors it so apparently prejudices?

Limited liability has given life to companies across the world, by providing the reassurances necessary to entrepreneurs to take the risk, safe in the knowledge that personally speaking they should come out unscathed. From this, more companies have grown and flourished, which has led to more jobs and better state welfare for virtually all capitalist economies. The strength of this function has gone a long way towards building the great superpowers, and is seriously underestimated as a legal construct.

Limited liability leaves a gap in the pockets of those companies that lend money or offer their customers credit terms during the course of their business. As a consequence of the promoter’s ability to walk away with his hands clean, many businesses find the squeeze of bad debts too severe, and end up having to take on credit of their own to meet the shortcomings. In theory, limited liability leaves creditors in a weak situation, with relatively limited powers to regain the full amount of any monies due.

In reality, limited liability doesn’t operate in that way. Of course, many businesses go under every year as their owners walk free of encumbrance, but generally speaking the economic world does not work between insolvent companies. However, the flexibility allowed by limited liability has meant debt in a sense has become effective currency, and has helped businesses to survive during tough times, and to seek the financial help necessary without the appropriate risk.

Straight Marriages – Gay Unions

The debate of gay marriages has been a very hot political topic for many years and with being such a hot topic it is almost astounding the number of places that have come out publicly either for or against the topic. While there are few states who allow the idea of a gay or same-sex marriage there are those more liberal affording almost equal rights. Massachusetts is the only state currently in the United States that allows same-sex marriages. The state of Rhode Island is generous enough to recognize as legal marriage any same-sex marriage that is performed in Massachusetts, which is a major victory for many same-sex supporters.

The elections of recent years have seen this as a very hot topic button, and with the White House, stressing that marriage involves a man and a woman only, not same-sexes many states have been very reluctant to allow the same-sex marriages. However, a few states have come forward and allowed same-sex civil unions, which are very similar to a marriage.

These states are California, Hawaii, Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Vermont. The District of Columbia also recognizes same-sex unions and soon the Governor of New Hampshire has stated publicly that he will sign a bill giving the ok to same-sex unions. This is a major victory for those who are supporting the movement.

While many states have not given the green light on the same-sex issue, there are states who are sitting around discussing the issues. Many couples who are fighting for their rights have argued that there is no difference in the way they run their households compared to their heterosexual counterparts. They have also stated that while they may be with a partner who is the same sex as them, they do still love their partner and should have the right to get married.

This has always been a hot topic, and likely will continue to be a hot topic for many years to come. With the issues raging within the states and at the national level it will likely be a very long time before the gay and lesbian rights groups are able to truly declare a victory for their cause. Nevertheless, there is some solace to be taken in the small victories as they occur, and another Governor of a state being willing to allow a civil union is at least a step in the direction towards a victory.

The fact remains that often the views of the individual states tend to reflect the views of the President. With a President in office who is a staunch opponent to the concept of same-sex marriage as well as civil unions it is unlikely to allow much room for many victories until a more accommodating, or rather liberal, President is in the White House.

Once the bill passes all of the channels, it can go into effect as early as next year for the New Hampshire residence who have long been awaiting this victory. With each state that gives this right to its residents, it opens the doors to more states to start becoming more tolerant of all their inhabitants. Finally, this is paving the way for America to join the bulk of Europe in recognizing the legal inequalities between straight and gay couples nationwide.

Supreme Court Abortion Decision

After much deliberation and discussion, the Supreme Court has returned a critical strike to the core of women’s rights in the abortion arena. The court in a 5-4 decision banned a medical procedure known as a partial-birth abortion or Dilation and Extraction. This abortion procedure was performed after the 20th week of pregnancy. While the pro-rights crowd is naturally upset over the ban, they are horrified over the fact that there are no exceptions to the ban that would enable a doctor to save the life of a woman if it was medically necessary to perform the procedure.

Doctors can face up to 2 years in prison if they are convicted of performing the procedures, which will greatly limit the numbers of doctors performing the procedures and likely increase the number of states placing bans of the entire abortion procedure as well. The decision came from a split Supreme Court, with two of the justices being hand picked by Bush himself. This is a cause of great concern, suggesting that the Supreme Court has turned into a very conservative place, despite the lack of support for Bush and many of his ideas and practices on a broader level. The Supreme Court’s involvement in politics is usually noted, but given the gravity of this decision it is clear where certain allegiances lie.

Is the Supreme Court really following the wishes of the majority, do they really have the legal right to determine that a medical decision can or cannot be performed? The anti-abortion camps in the GOP are happy following the decision and are busily looking for more ways to put a damper on the rights of women in regards to abortions. How will this decision be regarded when it comes election time, and the Presidential elections come around? What about the midterm elections next time they are scheduled?

Many people are left to wonder if the Supreme Court decision is truly a legal decision, or nothing more than a very carefully selected group of ultra conservative judge’s who are following Bush’s wishes and desires in regards to the case. The case was sitting before a panel of judge’s who seem to thrive off of the acceptance of Bush, and Bush was noted as being encouraged by the ruling and declaring it as a victory for his administration.

The court defended its decision by saying that it was doing nothing more than drawing a line between abortion and infanticide. There is a difference between killing a child, or an infant, and an abortion. One of the most notable differences is that a child or infant is not considered an infant until the first breath of air is taken into the lungs. An abortion does not allow the infant to take that first breath of air, therefore, removing the term infant from their being.

While it is noble that the Supreme Court is looking and seeking to protect all forms of life, they should also concern themselves with the lives of the mothers who carry babies, who should not be allowed to continue to term for medical reasons. There are numerous women each year who become pregnant who are unable physically to carry a child to term, and must abort the child, or risk their own life. What has the Supreme Court done in order to protect those mothers, or improve their quality of life?

The European Convention on Human Rights: The Wider Implications

The European Convention on Human Rights has seen vast changes to the legal framework of countries across Europe. By imposing fundamental freedoms and liberties in an indefeasible form, it has created a host of legal problems and issues for courts to tackle in an attempt to improve human rights. Distinct from the US, which already retains fundamental freedoms through its definitive constitution, much of Europe in particular the UK doesn’t have the same codified provisions for its citizens. This has now been revolutionised by the ratification of the European Convention (ECHR), which sets out certain primary standards that must be attained in relation to each individual citizen. In this article, we will look at the advantages of the ECHR, and the wide-ranging impact it has had on the various constitutions around Europe.

The European Convention on Human Rights was established as an international treaty to afford a uniform standard of human rights treatment across Europe. Covering basic freedoms like the right to life through to trickier issues such as the right to liberty and the right to marry, ECHR has had an astonishing impact on Europe both legally and politically. In passing legislation, European governments have to as a matter of law legislate in accordance with the provisions contained within the ECHR. This means parliaments of signatory countries are being bound by their predecessors to legislate in a particular way, which has ruled out a number of would-be pledges and meant the reversal of certain national laws.

One area where this has caused problems is in abortion. The perpetual morality debate aside, abortion has been held to contravene the right to life provision in certain European countries. Although there is still great scope for challenge, this could potentially cause problems in the coming years as more and more cases of this nature are brought before the European court. Another major problem area is that of same sex marriages. The universal right to marry means that any provision stopping same sex marriage anywhere in Europe could potentially be struck down as illegal, requiring nations to actively realign their current provisions to avoid any discrimination. For this reason, the UK, amongst others, have taken proactive measures to permit same-sex marriages to avoid the embarrassment of a public ruling against them. This obviously raises problems of national power and freedom: nations are now utterly bound by the principles of European ‘liberty’, whether they like it or not.

Thankfully this social and legal upheaval is working towards a more liberty-orientated Europe. It is certainly taking time, and given the fact that the ECHR is over half a century old, its impacts are becoming more and more apparent as time wears on and as courts are presented with modern challenges located within the context of the original ECHR provisions. Additionally, the European Convention on Human Rights is being regularly updated and amended to provide a steadfast constitution for the citizen whilst retaining the flexibility to adapt to contemporary situations. Although the ECHR and the provisions contained within it have met stiff opposition throughout their lifetime, most would now agree that the level of individual certainty provided by these fundamental freedoms is making for a better quality of life and reducing the scope for discrimination and prejudice across Europe.