Should I begin this by stating that I’m not a lawyer and I have no legal training of any kind? Actually, I did do a subject called Legal Studies one year towards the end of High School that I can recall. This is rhetorical of course, I shouldn’t have to preface everything I write about here by first reminding everybody I don’t have the appropriate credentials. It is a habit born of witness both in print and in public of those with contrary opinions being called to task for not having the adequate piece of paper proving a period of study from an institution that likely owes its existence to the very authority being criticised. In cases when the person does happen to have the appropriate piece of paper; they are simply dismissed with one if not many pejoratives while assuring any potentially wavering spectators that their opinion is in the minority. Examples off the top of my head would be, “extreme”, “fringe”, “right-wing”, “kooky”, “unorthodox” and “questionable”. Compounds of these words and many others can be used often with a dreaded hyphen attached.
So I’m not a lawyer and I have no legal training but I was raised and educated with the ideal that the law should be something that could be and should be understandable to a literate member of the the public. I was also assured that where this was not the case, that there were noble beings ready to shield the simple folk from those who would dare to take advantage of their ignorance. As someone in a constant battle against my own cynicism, I know this is not exactly the case but I also know that striving for an ideal and falling short is better than not striving at all. We are certainly all better off than many a tribal man that had his head cleaved in two for irritating his chief. Things could be worse and I much prefer Daniel Hannan’s romantic picture of Magna Carta at Runnymede to my own misanthropic inclinations.
I seem to have lost my place.
The inspiration for this post is of course what I refer to as the “nonsense” or “craziness” depending on my audience which is going on at the moment. I have refused so far to speak the various names it has because I really don’t want to draw attention to it specifically. It isn’t the crisis itself that bothers me — whatever opinion one might have on it — but the reaction of people to it. I had been following it since January when it appeared and took some initial precautions before it became worse. What I said from the beginning was that I was more worried about how people reacted to it than I was to what was happening. I took it very seriously at first; as one should when there an unknown but I think by now, rational minds have begun to see that what has happened is a massive overreaction that still has a lot of momentum. And criticism can always be met with the sophistic refrain, “Well, if we hadn’t… then…”
Where the law comes into this is that I recently got to wondering whether the various governments around the world actually have the legal authority to do what they’ve done. I’m sure many probably do but I am a bit puzzled by the actions of my own national government and those of my ethnic cousins in North America and Great Britain. Isn’t there something called “freedom of association” and something else called “freedom of assembly”? It would differ nation to nation but if not, aren’t there plenty of precedents at least for such concepts being accepted and protected? I googled one of them and came up with this link from my own government’s website. I began skim reading and soon came to this:
Australia is a party to seven core international human rights treaties. The right to freedom of assembly and association is contained in articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 8(1)(a) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
I had to scroll a bit further before I came to what were termed the domestic laws. So I immediately began to wonder why suddenly international law has become so important that they are put ahead of national laws. Who decides these international laws? On what basis? When did we vote for them? Who even wrote that web page? These are all questions I don’t expect clear answers to because that is outside the modern tradition of the law.
Something I appreciate about reading constitutions, laws and legislation from one hundred or more years ago is that they are written in clear and generally unambiguous language and are also mercifully brief. Even ones born in alien cultures from thousands of years ago are quite easy for me to relate to. The people employed to read and draft legislation for a living I’m sure will admit it is not the most enthralling reading even with the utmost attempt at brevity. That alone should be enough incentive to keep things simple but the opposite is certainly the trend. The average legal text I have come across over the last few years would dwarf the articles of the Australian constitution many times over. And where the matter-of-fact laws of the past still exist, they are overwritten or reinterpreted into oblivion by the modern kind.
One might argue that with the increasing sophistication of our society that the extra complication is necessary. I don’t buy this and it seems that the more complicated and more ambiguous it is made, the more restricted the “true” knowledge of the law is. So if someone like me is prompted to quibble at the legality of restricting healthy people to their homes and telling them they no longer have freedom of association or worship, I can be given 10,000 words to mull over. Assuming I do mull over them, and still have the same questions after doing so; I can then be asked for my academic qualifications. The latter more often precedes the former though and both have been made socially and politically impossible to overcome. The same is now more or less true for science and medicine.
It doesn’t really matter if you simply go along with it though. I don’t see anyone in authority asking for the medical qualifications or experience of a certain software salesmen with a disturbing interest in sticking needles in children. We also didn’t need the scientific credentials of a politician with a well-known interest in climate science. Those are the two stand-outs but there are always more.
The other problem is people simply don’t know what they’re rights are. I don’t even anymore. Even if I knew the words of the Australian Constitution off by heart that wouldn’t mean much since International law written by “I don’t know who” with “I don’t know what authority” is given precedence on our own Attorney General’s website.
I have wondered to myself what would have caused the pubic to show any resistance or even riot in response to what has been done. One of the only answers I can think of is the non-essential that has still been deemed essential. Alcohol and tobacco have continued to be sold and is widely available despite the well-documented health-risks. I am sure the trade in illicit substances though officially illegal, has been doing very good business for the last few months too. I am also sure that pornography and prostitution — the latter of which is certainly a vector for the spread of disease, are doing extremely well. People are still allowed to have one visitor to their homes.
What if the police had gone after criminals selling or using drugs with the same zeal they went after people trying to go to the beach or let their children play in parks? What if they had shutdown all the liquor stores and stopped the sale of cigarettes? What if they had blocked access to pornography and hook-up apps through the Internet? All these are potentially vectors for the spread of disease or for weakening immune systems. I would say all are objectively worse than a trip to the beach or sitting in church with neat, healthy and well-groomed people. With the latter it is important to remember that someone who is sick is not obligated to attend church and never has been. I think had our vices been seriously attacked, we might have seen a very real and robust reaction.
Not so with our liberties.