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Just and Effective Law

Posted on January 26, 2015 — 3 Minutes Read

I was reading somewhere that if the punishment for parking on double yellow lines were death, and therefore nobody did it, would that be a just and effective law? Aside from the shockingly harsh punishment for something seemingly benign, first thought that came to mind was that this would be as effective as a law could get. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would risk their lives to park on a double yellow, but the question that this subsequently leads to is what effectiveness entails, not to mention that exactly what makes a law just is not an easy question either. Majority rule is evidently not what justice means for there is this famous story where allegedly in ancient Rome, Christians were considered criminals and were thrown to ravenous dogs, lions and bears in the Colosseum for sport. If the story is true and even if most ancient Romans were happy with this, it would still be difficult for anyone today to consider it a just act, to pass a death penalty along with public humiliation because of one’s religion or belief. It seems that justice means more than majority opinion. There seems to be boundaries. There seems to be certain rights that are fundamental to individuals that no law shall violate. Such rights may vary by society and culture, and will certainly evolve over time. Yet most people today would likely agree that the right to life and to liberty, the right to the freedom of thought, expression and religion are fundamental, that they are inalienable and shall transcend jurisdiction. If the right to life is deemed today as one of these fundamental rights, then I would not consider punishment by death for parking on a double yellow as just for it violates our fundamental right to life.

Coming back to the question on effectiveness. Each law has its specific purpose, and effective this law would seem in combating illegal parking, considering a law is also a part of the larger legal system, the question unanswered is if this law contributes to the effectiveness of such. I believe the purpose of a legal system is to, among other things, ensure fairness in balancing the rights and needs between members of the society, and perhaps, most importantly, to protect our fundamental rights against infringement since these rights are intrinsic to every individual and are inalienable. Death punishment for parking on a double yellow, at a micro level, seems to achieve its goal well. Yet as a part of the larger legal system, by violating our fundamental and inalienable right, this law breaks the premise of it. It does exactly what a legal system is set out to prevent. So I cannot say that death penalty for parking on a double yellow is an effective law, not when you take into account what a law, as part of a legal system, is intended for. I don’t think this would surprise anybody. No matter how much we hate people parking where they are not supposed to, I don’t think anyone is expecting to see people being executed for it on the evening news. Still, knowing there is a reasoned foundation behind not killing people for misdemeanour helps me sleep better at night.