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Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Contradiction in Law

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

Why aren’t more legal-regulatory systems in conflict? A typical legal decision involves a number of different legal, contractual, and regulatory systems, each of which consists of thousands of statements of law and precedents, that latter only fuzzily fitting the current situation, with little meta-law to describe how these different systems and statements interact. Why, therefore, is it very rarely, if at all, that court cases and other legal decisions end up with a throwing up of hands and the judgement-makers saying “this says this, this says this, they contradict, therefore we cannot come to a well-defined decision”. Somehow, we avoid this situation—decisions are come to fairly definitively, albeit sometimes controversially. I cannot imagine that people framing laws and regulations have a sufficiently wide knowledge of the entire system to enable them to add decisions without contradiction. Perhaps something else is happening; the “frames” (in the sense of the frame problem in AI) are sufficiently constrained and non-interacting that it is possible to make statements without running the risk of contradiction elsewhere.

If we could understand this, could we learn something useful about how to build complex software systems?

The Rule of Law (1)

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

There was an interesting discussion on AskMetafilter a week or so ago about whether a parent had the right to fine a minor for swearing in the family home, especially when the money being taken away had been independently earned by the child.

One of the interesting arguments used by people in favour of the fine was “my house, my rules”; that the child lives in a house provided by the parents, and should therefore defer to that provider. An interesting hypothetical is to consider how this could be enforced in law.

Presumably, the basis for this in the “general position”, where there is no parental responsibility between the parties involved, is that the provider of the service can set arbitrary conditions on the providee, within the bounds of the law. If I want to let out a room in my house, it is reasonable for me to set a condition like no smoking, compulsory communal singing every morning, or the saluting of the house flag. If the lessor doesn’t like it, they are free to rent elsewhere.

But, this doesn’t apply in the family case. The child doesn’t have the ready right to move to an arbitrary other home; they are constrained to live within the family home. It would seem that the “my house, my rules” defence can’t apply here, as the necessary freedom of action doesn’t obtain.

This raises interesting questions about the rule of law within families. Do we, in general, believe that it does obtain? I think if asked the question, we might say that it does, but the reality is different. Clearly, the vast majority of us would believe that serious crimes within the family should be treated normally. But lesser issues less so—many jurisdictions, for example, allow a certain class of physical attacks on the child by the parent to be exempt from criminal status, which would exist if those attacks were carried out on a arbitrary individual. So far, we are still within the rule of law sensu strictu—there is an exception, agreed via a democratic and legally sound process, to the general argument that it is illegal to hit someone. But the ground is getting boggier. It get boggier still when we move onto crimes like theft. Is it theft for a parent to take away a child’s property? If I, through menace or surreptition, take some money from my neighbour, I am a thief; if a parent does the same to a child, is it still theft?

Parents in general treat the idea that their child has legal rights with a mixture of contempt and dismissive amusement. Perhaps we need to see a shift in this? Certainly, just a couple of generations ago, the idea that wives had recourse to law in matters such as assault and rape was treated with similar derision. I also worry about the greater implications here for the child’s learning about the rule of law; if the idea that they have no legal recourse is established in their mind through minor issues about property, will they apply the same reasoning when the issue is a serious one?