Ten years old this week
I was always amazed at the staying power and the powerful imagination of columnists who publish a new topic each week in the newspapers. I had never imagined that I would be able to join such an august body of men and women. However, after my experience at the Registry, I was driven to provide what I consider to be necessary information to my fellow Vincentians so that they could avoid mistakes in their transactional contact with the Registry. Afterwards, I decided that it was equally important to give consideration to other areas so that Vincentians could be educated about the laws under which they are governed. The late Norma Keizer, former editor, was instrumental in setting up this column. I am grateful that she showed the initiative and foresight, in the absence of precedent, to make legal education available to Vincentians in this form. The newspaper continues to carry on her legacy by affording this column the opportunity to bring you the law.
Ignorance of the law
The law is important in every country, otherwise there would be chaos. The strong and powerful would overwhelm the weak and some people would be unreasonably favoured over others. Hence the law is necessary to guide and regulate behaviour and offenders would be punished whenever their conduct is contrary to the law. In fact, every country has adopted some form of laws that the population must obey. The law itself declares that ignorance of the law is no excuse. A person cannot go before the court and claim that he did not know that the act he committed is illegal. This means that everyone should know what is illegal. There is no programme in schools to teach children the rudiments of the law. Legal education starts at the Advanced level and is available by choice. One should, however, be able to follow one’s case in the court in an enlightened way, even if one has a lawyer. Moreover, one should be able to hold reasonable conversation on matters in the court.
Our laws are contained in several volumes and there are thousands of precedents that we observe under our common law system. People often find law books difficult to read because of the technical language (legalese). The intention of this column has always been to bring the law in an unsophisticated, simple way to provide an understanding of the law, especially those aspects that affect the lives of the ordinary man.
Legal education in schools
I see no reason why some simple aspects of the law cannot be taught at the primary level, even if it means adding a few topics to the Social Studies course. Perhaps it could start with such topic as: offences against the person, chattel and property, burglary, theft and drug offences (use and traffic), among others.
Criminal laws impose punishment such as prison sentences, fines and sometimes compensation for committing an illegal act. On the other hand, civil law deals exclusively with civil wrongs against a person, chattel (movable things) or property.
Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: email@example.com