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At the end of this module you should be able to:
• Understand the who
makes our laws and how they can be changed
Like it or not, we are all judged on our records. Your father was hired for his job based on his record. Government officials are elected on the records they have made.
Isn't it important to know ahead of time, before you become too involved with people, before you tell them your secrets or invite them to your home, what they are really like? lf you could talk to other people who had known them much longer, perhaps you could find out.It might save you a lot of grief if you knew their records! Wouldn't you expect them to want to know your record, too?
Keeping a good record now may seem harder, but in the long run it's easier - easier to get a job, easier to be trusted, easier to make friends, and easier to live with yourself without shame or regrets.
In a dictatorship, one man or a group of men makes the laws, and the people who have to obey have no say in the matter. In Australia, the people we elect to govern us make our laws. They try to write laws that will meet the needs of all of us. Occasionally a law turns out to be unfair, and many or most people decide that they don't like it. When this happens, they can make an effort - within the framework of our form of government - to have the law changed or repealed. But in countries where the people have no real vote, no real elections, they have no hope of changing unjust laws or of appealing to unbiased courts.
They don't really have law in the sense that we do, for they are much more restricted by the law than protected by it. We want the law's protection, and we should want it both for ourselves and for everyone else. No other way will work.
It is not always easy to know when we are stepping on the rights of others. Common sense will tell us most of the time, but if we don't know, we have to find out. We can't expect to be excused for trampling on other people's rights just because we don't know all the laws. In living in this world with other people, just as in cricket or football, we have to know and obey the rules of the game. And if we do not, we are penalised.
So let's look at the kinds of law we're expected to know about and obey.
There are two major kinds of law - CIVIL and CRIMINAL. Both kinds protect us.
CIVIL LAW regulates private rights and agreements between people. It governs the sale of property and the terms of business contracts. Your parents might, for example, have a disagreement with someone over who owns a piece of land or whether or not a sum of money is owing to them. If they can't seem to settle it by simple discussion with the other people, then they can take the disagreement into a Civil Court. Here a judge or a magistrate who represents the State acts as a referee and decides who is right under the law.
We are not going to concern ourselves with Civil Law in this module since young people are so seldom involved in it. You want to know about CRIMINAL LAW because it is what punishes us when we act without respect for the rights and property of other people. These laws guarantee to everyone the right to the safety of his person and his property. It is in the area of Criminal Law that we can violate other people's rights or get our own noses punched. And so we must know about it.
Online Discussion Activity 2.1 - Do we take our laws for
granted? You will be answering questions about asylum seekers and how they fit into to our legal structure and society.
A crime is committed when a criminal law is broken. In Victoria, for example, there are two kinds of criminal offences, SUMMARY (or petty) and INDICTABLE (usually requiring a trial with a judge and a jury).
Summary offenses seem small - being drunk and disorderly in public or committing driving violations, for instance - but they could lead to much more serious accidents or crime. Most summary crimes are punished by fines.
Indictable crimes, the ones that require court consideration, are either misdemeanours or felonies. Misdemeanours are more serious than summary crimes; they're offences such as petty stealing, common assault (that nose-punching, for example), using a motor car illegally, damaging property on purpose (vandalism), and other really quite serious crimes. An offender can be imprisoned for committing a misdemeanour - and sometimes for many years depending on the crime and the circumstances.
FELONIES are much more serious and, of course, call for more severe punishment. Murder, serious assault (injuring people badly), breaking into people's houses for any reason at all, and other equally criminal acts are all felonies. A person guilty of a felony can be sent to prison for a long time.
Remember our discussion of records and how important they are? Well, not only felonies, but misdemeanours go on our records, and that's how the clean records we all start out with get damaged. Anyone who commits a crime begins a criminal record.
And when this happens, you set yourself up for judgment by society. You find it harder to get a job, harder to be trusted, harder to make friends, and harder to live with yourself. That's when you realise that a bad record is too much to pay for going too far with a bit of fun or getting something for nothing. It just isn't worth it!
Society and the Law take into account the inexperience and the fun-loving nature of young people. For this reason youngsters are not dealt with as severely as adults. The purpose of the law is not just to punish, but mainly to teach, so that our records can be kept clean, and genuine mistakes and carelessness are not treated as criminal cases. But young people who regularly abuse other people's property and rights or who simply refuse to obey the law must be dealt with for the protection of all.
Many times young people use very bad judgment. They don't always stop to think about how really serious things can get. What seems to be just fun at the moment could develop into a tragedy. And it happens so fast sometimes.
It's natural for you to get into mischief, and many of your pranks are not at all serious. But when a prank or a gag interfered with other people's rights, you may be breaking the law - whether you know it or not. And, as we have said, not knowing that you have broken the law does not excuse you. Maybe you don't understand the reason for a law. You just know, for example, that you're not allowed to open a fire hydrant for a shower no matter how hot the day. But supposing you did open a hydrant one very hot afternoon and you and your mates had a street shower. What harm might you cause?
Well, every time a hydrant is in operation the water pressure of all the other hydrants is lowered a bit because the water is being used somewhere else. Firemen fighting flames in a burning building - perhaps someone's home where a tiny baby is out of reach in its cot on the second floor - might not have quite enough water pressure in the hose to reach far enough to douse the flames that bar their way to the baby's room.
"We can't get enough pressure!" they would call out helplessly to the men below. And those men might be just as helpless because the water was pouring out of a hydrant two streets away. Or perhaps some youngster who thought the law didn't matter because no one had explained it to him had turned in a false alarm and sent the brigade rushing off in another direction just before the real alarm had sounded.
"We'll do what we can, but we don't have all our equipment," the fire chief would have to explain. But that would sound pretty empty to the family whose child was in danger or whose home was going up in flames.
Would you like to rush into a public telephone booth to call a doctor or an ambulance or the police to come HELP!! when your friend had been struck by a car or when an elderly person had fainted and find that telephone smashed and useless?
"Why won't it work?" you would ask over and over.
The answer might simply be that some other young person had wanted the "fun" of breaking it. Destroying property for the fun of it is called vandalism. And that's a crime.
You'd certainly agree to that if you were the one trying to use the telephone in an emergency. You'd want a strong law and to have that law 'obeyed'.
Online Discussion Activity 2.2 - Law, Order, Society and Values
There are questions about these issues to be discussed in the online forums.
You will also be required to create a collage of newspaper clippings. Refer to above link for instructions.
Resources: Children Out Of Detention (ChilOut) and Law and Legal Studies
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