Wednesday, 5 September 2012

What is the point of studying law?


Yesterday, a young college graduate held me to ransom! He wanted to know why I chose to study law and not History, Physics, Mathematics, English Literature or something else. It was a fascinating intellectual lucubration. By the way, the young man was actually wrong in assuming that I did not read something else before delving into law. In fact, before going to the law school, I had already studied Mass Communications majoring in Print Journalism and also practiced as a journalist for over five years. Being a journalist, I thought that a career in law especially Mass Media law might be a very good idea. I did not tell the young man this, however I did promise to get back to him in a very formal way as soon as possible. This blog is therefore a fulfilment of that promise.

For majority of those wanting to explore a career in law, we could fairly argue that the main motivating factor is to contribute towards building a just, free and fair society. The often repeated cliché amongst lawyers is the burning desire to see a future fair to all and a world where justice and fairness must appear to the right thinking members of the society to have been fairly dispensed without looking at the wherewithal or status of parties to a dispute.

Right from the time of ancient legal philosophers and jurists, law has always been associated with justice and fairness and since the year 1543 when Lady Justice was first blindfolded by a German Sculptor Hans Gieng on the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen in the city of Berne, law has also become not only a symbol of blind justice, objectivity, impartiality and truth but also a driving force in the maintenance of law and order hence the full sense in arguing that law is the soul of the society. It is principally because of this reason that successive generations had continued to reserve a pride of place in the society to the study of law bearing in mind also the role law could play towards safeguarding lives and property, rewarding good behaviour and punishing bad ones. It is purely because of these reasons that I chose to study law; I want bad guys to be punished and good ones to be rewarded.

Before going further, it is pertinent to point out that finding an acceptable meaning of the term ‘law’ is a controversial one and indeed an uphill task. Finding a common ground in understanding the meaning of the term ‘law’ is very difficult and depending on who is being asked, the term ‘law’ could mean different things to different people. It could symbolise an honour or class elevation for those involved; I do not subscribe to that! It could also be a force for good and deterrence to evil; this is where I stand! And yet to others it could be a symbol of oppression or even misuse of power and disorder rather than order.

A young Blackman in Peckham High Street in South London will definitely give a different meaning to it from a young Whiteman of same age in a High Street in Cornwall. How about looking at law from the perspective of different world religions? Would a western law on divorce mean same thing to Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Jews? How about looking at it from the angle of customary laws of Asian and African countries? And how would you explain to a secularist that Sharia and Canon laws are also laws or that the ancient pagan Roman law played an important part in shaping the meaning, development and contemporary understanding of law in the west and the rest of the world? Such definitional and ideological struggles are exacerbated by discrepancies between different religious systems and their competing truth claims. The study of law therefore becomes imperative in order to make the crooked way straight!

Am sure that by now that you must have agreed with me that these perceived controversies as to the meaning of law makes it not pointless but reasonable for a pride of place to be given to the study of law. Ever since the Roman Catholic Church used her monopoly of the Canon Law to uphold and justify the doctrine of inquisition, many world religions, states and tyrannies have continued to compete ferociously to outdo each other in totalitarianism and autocracy in the name of law. The Jewish Pogrom, the South African Apartheid, the Armenian Genocide, the American racism, the on-going shooting of protesters and killing of innocent citizens in Syria are just some of handy examples of evil being perpetrated in the name of law. The consequence of these developments is obvious; it is increasingly becoming difficult to know what exactly is lawful and what is not or the boundary between legality and illegality. Situations like these make the study and knowledge of law very imperative and more urgent than it has ever been and that is the reason why I joined the bandwagon!

Law is therefore very essential in order to set a boundary and standard for human conducts and even as that point is noted, we should also not overlook the importance of law as a potent instrument in defending the rights of the people, safeguarding the life and property of the citizens as well as arbitrating over disputes and assuring the commoners, the poor and the oppressed that the law will always be on their side as their last hope against the ‘brutal hands’ of the mighty and the rich. 

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