I try but you see, it’s hard to explain…

This post was inspired by a very tricky question put to me by fellow blogger, Mike Downes. In struggling to explain how the law works to his children he came to realise not only that doing so was very hard, but also that defining what the law itself is can be even trickier. Mike has asked me, as a police officer, what is the law?

For someone who deals with the law day in and day out I thought my understanding might give me a head start in providing a satisfactory answer. The more I thought about the question though the more I realised that actually, regularly dealing with the law didn’t seem to offer any ready solutions and that the ‘right’ answer is much more elusive than first it seemed.

What IS the law then? Even knowing where to start looking for the answer is tricky. Is the law what is written in the statutes? Where do legal precedents come in and what about the impact of public opinion, shifting ethics and developments in technology on how we define the law? Is the law something that applies equally to all people across all regions and indeed should it be?

I think that even mentioning the word ‘ethics’ makes the answer so much harder to find and yet no answer to the question ‘what is the law’ could be satisfactorily answered without some reference to ethics. Why do we impose the laws that we do and how do we decide how they ought be enforced? What makes us rescind laws and who has the right to make the final decision when two or more opposing and equally valid arguments clash over what should be legal and what should not? Is a law passed by a legislature with a low majority as enforceable as one the comes into force driven by popular mandate?

Unfortunately rather than getting me any closer to formulating an answer, these questions awkwardly only yield further questions about what the ‘law’ is. I suppose I might also look to ask how far a government needs to go in passing laws that affect the rights of its citizens. Some laws are designed with our own good in mind – to protect us from ourselves – but how do these affect our relationship with those in charge? Does the cost of policing certain laws justify the benefit to society that the policing returns and if not, what does this say about the law itself? How do the outcome of these discussions affect how we perceive law?

I’m hoping that with my liberal use of the question mark key I’ve gone some way to suggest that there is no easy answer to the question ‘what is the law?’. I would imagine that in a room of ten different legal professionals you’d get at least eleven differing positions on what the law is and find none of them right or wrong, each as defensible as the last and all probably completely opposing. So what is the law? Having thought about the question I guess I’d have to conclude that whilst I know something of laws, the only answer I can offer is that ‘law’ itself is very, very hard to define.

As ever feedback is appreciated and the first person to post as a reply the correct name of the artist and song from this blog’s title will receive an approving nod from myself. I guess an interesting discussion to come out of this post might be around what ‘law’ means to you – what do you understand by the term and what do you make of some of the thoughts I’ve run through whilst trying – and failing – to work out what ‘law’ is?

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6 Responses to “I try but you see, it’s hard to explain…”


  1. 1 Mike Downes 31/03/2011 at 22:27

    Really good you taken the time to attack the question from the philosophical angle. Shows you are fascinated by what you do and asking some super hard questions of yourself.

    I was chatting to a West Mids DI (Major Crimes) friend of mine at the weekend. Seems he quoted http://www.pnld.co.uk I had no idea what that was, so took a look. Seems it’s Criminal Law. No I see there are another million or so types of law in my 800 page law book.

    Thanks for putting in the effort to write the blog post and will get my kids to read it – if they say it’s too long and won’t read it, is it against the law? Have they got a case?

    Off to listen to The Strokes now.

  2. 2 PC Richard Stanley 31/03/2011 at 22:37

    Thanks for your feedback, I can’t imagine it would be in the public interest to prosecute your kids for not reading the blog but will have a chat with CPS when I’m able!

    Approving nod heading your way – congrats…

  3. 3 Mike Downes 01/04/2011 at 07:59

    My hands are up – I cheated. Google helped me with the lyric. Why not include the lyric – then ask for the song, artist and a triva question that’s not on Google (or at least not in first few pages).

  4. 4 Anonymous 29/09/2011 at 17:35

    read your blog on law, don’t you and your fellow officers think some laws need to be rescinded and some made easier for your job to made easier, it must really hard for you all to remember all of the law all of the time . It must also be grustrating that you follow the law to get arrests and then the criiminals they plead civil rights and get away with it :(

  5. 5 Anonymous 09/10/2011 at 22:49

    Social Contract theory start with Hobbes and Locke


  1. 1 Dare not speak his name… « PC Richard Stanley Trackback on 28/05/2011 at 12:15

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