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Ignorantia legit

Rhona Canoy .

SO… If only because I don’t completely trust lawyers, I’ve had to do a lot of reading up on laws. It is amazing how much the ordinary person and a lot of lawyers have to discover about what is legal in our country. Of course, we blissfully walk around unaware of so much until our need for specific laws arises. Generally, we assume that we know what is within the boundaries of the law based on what we generally know to be biblical. And that’s about how far it goes. We know it’s illegal to kill, steal, commit adultery — although the last is a bit difficult to prove in a court of law. “Why” shall be reserved for another discussion.

Even for lawyers whom we trust to be knowledgeable in their field, how much they don’t know is daunting. How easily the words “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” fly out of our mouths when we condemn people we perceive to be lawbreakers. And yet the first four words of that phrase carry so much weight. I’ve discovered that although our lawmakers may have crafted some really mediocre laws to protect themselves, somewhere along the way, some well-meaning representatives have actually made the effort to make some amazingly good ones.

There are actually a number of laws which have been written to protect the citizenry from miscreants who have found their way into public service. Actually a lot of them. Laws we simple folk know nothing about. Until we need them. And in trying to understand how we are ruled, I do have to understand the complicated manner in which laws function.

The appropriate law must be uncovered. If one were to take the easy way, an applicable republic act which has been used in court before (called a precedent) can be called upon. How the law works and how it’s interpreted by the justice system will have already been defined in records, making it simpler to figure out just how the law is to be presented in support of a particular complaint. When discussing our case with the lawyers who so generously volunteered to handle it, the references which were first presented to support our complaint were considered the go-to laws. Which, at first glance, seemed more than sufficient.

However, a law which has been tested also suffers the limitation of the deciding authority (in most cases, judges and justices) tending to render a judgment quite similar to the precedent case, not straying far from the original interpretation of that law. And herein lies the quandary which we simple folk don’t quite understand. All laws are subject to interpretation. Which means that how it is applied is based on how the deciding body sees and understands the facets of the case as it is presented to them, and more importantly, based on how brave or timid that deciding body may be in rendering a decision.

As in many cases, the safe route is to fall back on the point of view used as basis in a previous decision. Not difficult at all if there is only one person entrusted with the responsibility. Now I’m understanding why decisions made en banc (by a group of deciding individuals) can be difficult for a mere mortal to comprehend. And yet it is to be understood that decisions made by the Supreme Court (our court of last resort) then serve as the basis for how a particular law is then interpreted and applied. Being of a non-legal mind, I still find room to question this because not all cases falling under a specific law are identical. The circumstances which surround the case may vary, and those variances may be enough to warrant a different decision each time.

Which brings up the point that we don’t pay enough attention to how deciding bodies are chosen. It should matter how they are chosen, and the scrutiny of their perspective with regards to the law matters much. After all, a narrow-minded conservative person will always render a narrow-minded conservative decision. A deciding person who has a religious bias against legal annulment of marriage will lean towards making it difficult to get one. And by the same token, a more open-minded liberal deciding body may make decisions which have been subject to a different interpretation of the law.

What I’m finding is that lawyers, on their way to becoming lawyers, learn to understand and interpret the law in a specific, particular way. If we were given a chance to see the bar exam test papers, this would be apparent. I suppose many of the answers would be quite similar in interpretation, even if how they’re worded may differ slightly. Now I wonder just what it takes to top the bar exam. Is it because you answered more questions correctly than anyone? Is that all that is needed to be bar topnotcher? I would hope that some amount of originality in your answers would count for something.

I would assume that many of our lawmakers are lawyers. I don’t know that this is a good thing or a bad thing. Simply because I have a negative bias against lawyers. But I digress. I really just wanted to talk about how much we don’t know about our laws. Until we need them. And as a rule, we entrust that knowledge, information, and interpretation to our lawyers and judges. Maybe it’s high time that we lowly mortals take interest in the rules that govern us. It is amazing how many laws are already in place but have never been tested.

Maybe we should test them. After all, we paid for them.


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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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