5.4.3 Acceptability of the Law in a Changing Society

Acceptability of the law is essential, to avoid large-scale infringement that would overload the police, judiciary and penal system.

Most people need to feel that the law is protecting them rather than oppressing them.  This depends upon respect for the legal system and the way in which it is operated:

●  Laws should not unduly restrict people’s freedom. A degree of personal liberty is a fundamental requirement of governance (2.1) and people will chafe against restrictions that appear to be unnecessary.

●  People should be able to feel respect for their country’s Constitution (or its equivalent) and the framework of secondary rules which defines how laws are created and amended (5.2.3).

●  The legislature should be able to command the respect of the population: the legal system is undermined if the political class cannot be respected. Requirements for the performance of politicians (6.3.3) and their leaders (6.3.4) are detailed in the next chapter.

●  People should be able to feel that they have had sufficient influence on the negotiation of legislation, and that the legislative process is seen to be transparent and fair (5.4.1).

●  They should be able to feel that the law-enforcement agencies (5.2.5) and the sentencing of offenders (5.2.6) are impartially applied.

As well as respect for the operation of the legal system, the continued acceptability of the law depends on its ability to respond to cultural change.  And it must avoid alienating sections of the population, including new arrivals.  The worldwide Black Lives Matter protests over George Floyd’s death, for example, were triggered by popular resentment against racial bias in the police (which is a common problem).

The next three sub-sections examine some areas of sensitivity:

●  The law needs to be inclusive (, in the sense of applying equally to everybody.

●  It must avoid conflict with religious law (

●  It needs to adapt to contemporary culture as it evolves (, so that behaviour which people have come to regard as normal is not declared to be illegal.



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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/543a.htm.