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Examine the relationship between law and morals and consider whether law should support
and protect moral values.
To examine the relationship that exists between law and morals and consider whether the
law should support and protect moral values it is necessary to define both `law' and `morals',
compare the two and evaluate how each relate to one another.
Law can be defined, simply, as a system of rules that a society or government develops in
order to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships. Morals, more ambiguously,
are cultural principles and beliefs concerning right and wrong behaviour.
Although the provided definitions imply that law and morals are different in their approach,
there are many correspondences and interrelationships between their individual features and the
areas in which they concern themselves, for example, murder is both illegal and morally wrong.
Similarities are also present in the factors which influence both law and morals. In Western
cultures both are heavily influenced by Christianity and the Ten Commandments. An obvious example,
again, is murder - stemming from `thou shalt not kill'. Another is theft, which is comparable to `thou
shalt not steal'. Some principles are covered both by morals and by law. In England marriage is
monogamous; this is largely supported by moral values and by operation of the law.
Both law and morals are influenced by societal development, economic shifts and political
changes. A developed country, such as England, benefits from education, wealth and democracy.
These factors alongside others, including aforementioned religion, lead law and morals to be
reflective of the view of the majority supported by weighted evidential arguments. An instance of
education affecting law is the abolishment of the year and a day rule in relation to murder. As medical
advances were made it was no longer appropriate to limit the defendant's liability to this time period
as it would still be possible to provide evidence of causation.
Some areas of law do not mirror mainstream morality, it is a popular belief that breaking a
promise is immoral but this is unsupported by legal sanction, with the exception of promissory
estoppels created by Lord Denning in Central London Property v High Trees House (1965). Another
example comes from the law on omissions. Biblical texts suggest that it is immoral not to be a `good
samaritan', while law only imposes a duty to act in some circumstances including where a contractual
duty exists, Pittwood, and where responsibility is assumed, Stone v Dobinson.
Further, morality appears to be governed largely by motive. Many would argue that a
poverty-stricken parent stealing food for their starving child, morally, is less blameworthy than a
thief with far more egocentric motives. This difference is not accountable in law. The law does not
subscribe to emotion or sympathy. Legal rules can impose strict liability as seen in the Trade
Descriptions Act (1968).
Additionally, the ways in which law and morality are enforced are uncoupled. Law is upheld
with punishments, including removal of liberty. Morals are upheld by societies' disapproval and
Some adaptations within the law seem less governed by a culturally accepted moral code.
For example, the Abortion Act (1967) was introduced, initially, in the interest of safety rather than
being indicative of a more accepting view of social trends. It was acknowledged that many women
were dangerously attempting to self induce abortion and appreciated that legalisation was essential
to regulate and minimise dangers. Another, seemingly less controversial depiction is the Sexual
Offences Act (1967) which partially legalised homosexuality.
More recent adjustments highlight acknowledgement of a changing morality. In RvR (1991) it
was decided that a husband could be convicted of raping his wife and in Chadwick v British Railways
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The law can appear to perpetuate some immoralities that exist. Some professionals may be
treated differently within the legal system simply because of the job they hold. A distinct example
comes from negligence where professionals are exempt from the `reasonable man' test and instead
subject to the Bolam test. Regardless of whether or not the professional is favoured most would
agree it is immoral to treat their case differently on that basis alone.
Where law contradicts moral views, protests may ensue.…read more
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This was rebutted by Lord Devlin in `The Enforcement of Morals" (1959) when he argued
"every society has a moral structure as well as a political one, since that might suggest two
independent systems, I should say that the structure of every society is made up of both politics and
morals". This view implies that law and morals are inseparable even if such division is desirable. Devlin
reinforced "the suppression of vice is as much the laws business as the suppression of subversive