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Lawless Day

/ 01:03 AM August 14, 2014

Let me take the subject of law further forward from my column “Time for a legal revolution” (7/24/14) with a few more points to ponder.

I hope lawyers don’t get me wrong. I do understand the need to be precise in law and scrupulous in understanding and implementing it. I just think we’ve gone too far. Common sense, seeking the truth (not “winning cases”) and accepting that accidents happen with no one at legal fault are being lost more and more in society. And not just here. Litigiousness has gone mad in the United States and is not much better in many other places.

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It’s not just terrorists and religious wars that are creating havoc in our society (now we must prove that our cell phones work before we can fly, for god’s sake), it’s also our legal systems. We do nothing but add laws, too often ill-thought-out laws. We sue for everything and forget that accidents happen and people make honest mistakes where saying “sorry” is quite enough.

I acknowledge the importance of creating laws and then abiding by them. But there must be some (un)common sense, too. The most absurd example for me was having a 2-inch-long screwdriver for glasses confiscated at the Sydney airport because it was a “screwdriver” and the law says screwdrivers aren’t allowed on the plane. (I’ve no idea why; God knows what you can do with a screwdriver you can’t do with the steel knife they give you at lunch, or with a broken glass.)

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It’s time we started tempering our laws, reducing them to a minimum just enough to keep society working smoothly and safely. I suggest we have an annual Lawless Day during which Congress can go about canceling obsolete laws, laws no longer applicable, laws done for vested interest, laws that, quite frankly, we don’t need.

The law should be minimalist.

Many laws can also be time-set and, whenever possible, should be. They should have a limited life and be required to undergo review as to renewal, and, if needed, modified at the end of that life. Life will be different 10-20 years from now; the law will most probably need change for that changed environment. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program or CARP is an example of this.  As long as review is started early enough, there should be a smooth flow-on.

This paper’s Sunday editorial (“Crying ‘wolf!’”) pointed it out for me, in what I believe and am fighting for. It quoted Judge Learned Hand: “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes… Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women… While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.” I think I expressed it best in my column “Law serves society” (11/28/13): It’s not an entity unto itself. It’s why law was created. It’s been too often forgotten in the courts of the Philippines.

The first thing I’d like lawyers to do is speak English. I was forced to learn Latin in school (I’ve forgotten it all now, thankfully). What earthly reason is there to use a dead language no one in this country speaks? And keep it simple: Language is for communication between people, not for scratching your head in confusion. Yet the language of law seems designed to be incomprehensible.

Look at this: “Any public officer who, by himself or in connivance with members of his family, relatives by affinity or consanguinity, business associates, subordinates or other persons, amasses, accumulates or acquires ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts as described in Section 1 (d) hereof in the aggregate amount or total value of at least fifty million pesos (P50,000,000.00) shall be guilty of the crime of plunder and shall be punished by reclusion perpetua to death.”

Now read this: “Any public officer or anyone associated with him or her who steals P50 billion or more of public money [as described in Section 1 (d)] shall be sentenced to life imprisonment.”

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Which do you prefer? I suggest that the second version fully covers it all, if you want it to.

A former president and three senators in jail on nonbailable offenses, not yet proven guilty but jailed nonetheless, got me thinking.

I’m told there are a lot of people in jail on nonbailable offenses who’ve been there longer than if they were found guilty, which they’ve not yet been. Worse, there are poor people who can be out on bail but are in jail, often longer than the sentence would require, because they can’t afford the bail money. What an indictment of a system this is.

I’m not going to research it. But someone in the court system should. And just let the concerned people go. The cruelty of this situation is unacceptable. Surely it’s a simple, human thing to do. And don’t give me BS about all kinds of legal documents and approvals and heaven knows what. If the punishment term is shorter than the time spent in jail, open the door.

As to where you incarcerate people, I have no problem giving people jailed on nonbailable offenses better conditions while they’ve not yet been convicted—as long as it applies to all. Why should someone be given special treatment just because he or she is “important”? Isn’t Lady Justice supposed to be blind?

There is more. This is a court system that needs a revolution.

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TAGS: CARP, Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, congress, legal revolution, Sydney Airport
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