Adapting to Contemporary Culture

Laws emerge from the prevailing moral climate or, at the very least, they have to take account of the relationship between the law and morality (5.1.4) and what will be acceptable to people.  They become unenforceable if currently accepted moral values diverge too much from them.  As described above, new legislation might be required (5.4.1), or judicial interpretation might allow sufficient flexibility (5.4.2), but this doesn’t always happen when needed.  Society needs a process for initiating change, or a safeguard against undue rigidity, in the legal system.

Civil disobedience is, by definition, a breach of the law – yet it has sometimes played a historical part in initiating changes which were subsequently accepted and approved by the legislature.  The  government legislation to change the relationship between landowners and ramblers, as described above (, was the result of a popular movement that started with a mass trespass but is now celebrated – as reported by the BBC for example: Archive marks Kinder Mass Trespass anniversary.  A judge has no alternative but to find defendants guilty if the law has been broken, but the sentencing might be lenient to take account of a motivation to benefit society.

The American process of ‘jury nullification’ is another safeguard against rigidity.  An example of its use was published by HuffPost: Doug Darrell Acquitted Of Marijuana Charges Through Jury Nullification In New Hampshire.  The defendant had broken the law by growing the plants (for medicinal use), but the jury decided that it was inappropriate to punish him.


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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/edition04/5433.htm.