Monday, 15 June 2015

Law for the Layman, part 1, Interpreting the Law – by Jason Kay, Melaka

These are a series of short articles introducing basic legal concepts to the inquisitive lay person. Law is both an art (at the higher levels) and a science (at its core). There is no mystery to it. If you are curious about how lawyers think, do read on.

Part 1: Interpreting the Law

The classic lesson on how to interpret laws is the hypothetical “No Vehicle in the Park” law.

Assume that there is a law stating that no VEHICLE is allowed in the park.

It naturally follows that if a vehicle goes into the park, then there would be a breach of this law attracting sanctions (usually this would mean a fine, but it could also include a term of imprisonment).

Simple enough so far?

Now, this is where the lesson begins: How would you argue for/against (a) person(s) charged with “using a vehicle in the park” in contravention of the clear law stating that there can be “no vehicle in the park” for these 7 separate scenarios.

1. Adam drives his car through the park to save on commute time.

2. Garbage trucks coming into the park daily to empty the trash cans placed in the park.

3. An ambulance with an emergency case cutting across the park because it is the shortest way to the hospital.

4. Policemen on motorcycles riding through the park in hot pursuit of robbers who ran into the park.

5. Children riding their bicycles in the park.

6. A mother pushing her baby in a pram in the park.

7. Trishaws ferrying tourists on a scenic tour of the park.

A lawyer would ask 2 questions.

First question: Is it a vehicle? (i.e. the car, garbage truck, ambulance, motorcycle, bicycle, pram, and trishaw). If it is, go to the next question. If it is not, stop here because there is no contravention of the law.

Second question: Is there a valid reason for allowing the “vehicle” into the park even though there is a clear law against having vehicles in the park? Putting it in a different way: Should there be exceptions? If yes, why, and when?

If you can see the differences in the 7 scenarios and present a coherent argument that would justify your conclusion consistently, you are one step closer to thinking like a lawyer.

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