Essay on Law and Morality

With reference to any area(s) of law, distinguish between law and morals. Consider how far it may be said that the law upholds the moral values of society. To many people, at first glance law and morals can seem very different. It is true that we can distinguish certain things between the two, but it would be impossible to say that they are completely separate. Sometimes a very strong connection between the two can be found. One thing that they both do is lay down boundaries of what society considers to be acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

Where morals are the beliefs and values of a society, they tell those who share them what should be considered right and wrong. Laws also do this in the sense that they lay down what should be deemed legal and illegal conduct. However, sometimes what is thought to be immoral conduct should not automatically be considered illegal. Therefore law and morals are comparable to two overlapping circles; separate ideas and developments in some areas, but with areas also where the two concepts meet.

Their differences are numerous. Firstly, they originate from very different sources. Laws are made, normally written down so that the point can be made clearly. Morals on the other hand tend to evolve. You cannot go to a library and find a document outlining the clear moral beliefs on sex before marriage for example. Many people have strong opinions on this subject but they are not the same for every person in England. Also, people's views on this subject have changed gradually over the centuries, evolved.

Once it would be highly immoral to do such a thing, but now it has become more and more acceptable increasing numbers of people live together before getting married for example. You can however find a written document detailing the facts to do with the law on Theft. This is because an Act had to be made by Parliament, outlining the offence and unlike moral attitudes, this law applies to every single person under English jurisdiction. In other words laws are not optional; they MUST be obeyed, as ignorance of the law is punishable, yet we can all choose our moral viewpoint on issues.

This also follows that laws can be changed instantly and have immediate effect. This enables the law to become an effective reactive tool of society, if an event takes place that greatly effects our society and needs to be stopped, laws can be passed and promptly enforced. For example, the response to the Dunblane massacres. In 1996 sixteen children and their teacher were shot dead by a lone gunman. So shocking was this incident that the Government felt compelled to respond, and was able to immediately by passing the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997.

This banned private ownership of most handguns. This concept is not practical when it comes to changes in moral attitudes. The sanctions involved when a person acts immorally as opposed to illegally are also very different. Legal rules are often backed with obvious sanctions that are enforceable; fines, injunctions, probation and imprisonment are all examples of this. Moral rules though are more likely to be reinforced by pressures; loss of status, disapproval of friends and family, being shunned by the society in which you live.

These are all potent disincentives against immoral behaviour. In my opinion it is beneficial to have such a distinction between law and morals. After all, strongly help moral opinions are just that… opinions. This should not be the basis of legal arguments. However, a suitable balance needs to be achieved, as a legal system that has made no connections with the common morality of the society is it there to protect might find it difficult to earn their respect and serve the public. After all, we are more likely to obey laws if we agree with them

Consequently, laws do uphold the moral values of society to a certain extent, especially those values which are considered to be core to society. For example, in the case of Bland 1993, Lord Hoffman said when deciding whether Bland should live or die that there could be no difference between law and morality, they were one and the same thing. This shows that even judges believe that in some circumstances the law should be juxtaposed with core moral attitudes on issues so important as those of life and death.