Systems are either open or closed, never any other possibility. The legal system is open since individuals, groups, and formal governing institutions usually change. New laws and regulations are enacted, adopted, or otherwise put into place. Of course many laws and regulations remain in effect or are changed to some degree. Normally societies do not remove from the system old laws and regulations unless they feel compelled to do so. Right now in America there are well over ten thousand laws dealing with criminal and civil matters. he system is also dynamic in that these laws and regulations are subject to change through new interpretation. Indeed, lawyers need to be experts at semantics these days in defending their clients interests before the bar of law. At times one wonders as to the wisdom of a system that allows so many assaults upon itself. Of course this system is not some mechanical engine made of physical components like an automobile. This system is that collection of individuals we call a society. Thus we all have some say, however minor, in the functioning of our legal system.
Unlike a physical engine, perhaps made of metal and using gasoline as fuel, our legal system cannot run unattended and left to its own devices. We humans must maintain this system, we cannot turn our backs on it and expect it to operate without error or misadventure. But, I fear, the relative size of the population that lives under one legal system may suffer from lack or proper control. Unlike mechanical parts which may be engineered and precisely made and fitted, out human legal system has no such parts, it is human. So we may see the mass and swirl of various proportions of the general population move about and changing the system. Political systems are more about applying legal systems in mass, if you like. A political system attempts to define how a legal system should operate, whether they will in reality is another question. We elect officials to formally run this legal system according to the general will of the population, or at least as the will is interpreted by such officials. The officials may also be appointed by elected officials, further compounding the confusion or insight. Finally, citizens may become a part of the system by virtue of training and education, a self nominating process, if you like. The ordinary citizen has been almost removed from the process of operation. The exception is that of the juror who weighs the evidence presented and votes for the verdict. Otherwise, we are either plaintiffs or defendants. Usually we try to be neither for the average individuals tends to have a distrust of legal systems and law enforcement apparatus.
Perhaps we have grown far to inured to the wealthy and politically powerful misusing the system. Rule of law appears to have been suspended in the case of so many politicians such as Hillary Clinton or George Bush. Our politicians seem to work overtime (I include their minions of salaried staff and other affiliates such as volunteers and hucksters) to find ways to obfuscate, obscure, undermine, and otherwise violate the principles of openness, transparency, and truthfulness in their dealings as elected or appointed officials. Almost every member of the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Senate are multimillionaires. Those who are not are serving their first terms in office. It is very difficult not to make the case for corruption in our legal system. Of course when we look at that first level in the law enforcement apparatus we see far less corruption but the hands could be cleaner. At the national and state levels we want Caesar’s wife to be above suspicion but she seldom appears so. We could investigate spouse after spouse and find that most have benefitted from the marriage with the elected or appointed politician. Thus the middle class and poor are being literally controlled by the wealthy class. They may not be the one percent yet but given time they may well become that group. Thus, the question of the future? How does a poor man achieve justice at the hands of the most wealthy? I fear for the answer. The legal system is becoming more divorced from the ordinary man, the common man. It is becoming a tool for the greatly wealthy to use for their own ends.
As to law enforcement, we have something of a problem. Individuals do not always support a law simply because it exists and they are good citizens. Nor are people autotoms that obey every law automatically. The actual enforcement is what we might term as exception handling. That is, the system operates as designed but there are small errors or problems that occur. If we believe that there is a social contract we all have agreed to perform, then its this lack of performance that must be subject to inspection and corrected. Thus a prohibition against murder, the unwanted killing of one human being by another within this legal system, means that when such a murder occurs the enforcement unit of the legal system must investigate such occurrance. To that end we have investigators we call police who examine the evidence and attempt to find the perpetrator. Then the examination continues as the representative of the people examines the police investigation and brings charges. The perpetrator then appears before a judge, that is another member of the legal enforcement unit of the legal system, who will conduct the examination of the evidence and testimonies before the panel of jurors. If the error is a civil mater such as a dispute in context of a contract, then usually there is no people’s representative, only the attorneys for each side in the matter of a contract dispute. And there may or may not be a jury to hear the facts and render a verdict. You see, life is never automatic, there are always exceptions for us to examine and handle as we live our lives. Traffic jams due to accidents or weather will cause us to alter our route, if possible. Illness may affect our day. Forgetting to defrost the chicken for dinner will cause us to eat a different mean that planned. Individuals may become too inebriated to act correctly in public, thus causing a problem that the legal system will assign to the law enforcement unit. How does that happen? An individual files a complaint. It may be a telephone call to the local law enforcement unit or a written complaint taken by a police officer. It could be a police officer observing the problem and thus taking some action. As it is, we are all part of the legal system and also part of the law enforcement unit. Next post I’ll talk more about our respective places in the legal system and the law enforcement unit.