The legal framework: protecting the citizen

The legal framework: protecting the citizen

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The law - maintains social control, enabling the government to maintain order and introduce changes that they believe to be in the interest of everybody.  It protects the rights f individuals and groups, by establishing the legal relationships between citizens and between citizens and the state.

Law – public set of rules, usually seen as binding. What can and cannot be done. A form of control that is backed up by means of enforcement.

Morality –whether human behavior is right or wrong and what should or should not be done. Listening to the voice of conscience, derived from the concept of natural or God-given law

Justice – fairness and impartiality in judgement and actions; the principle that like cases should be treated alike.

Rule of law – bringing together ideas of law, justice and morality.

Criminal law – dealing with crimes (eg. **** or assault) against property, individuals or state. Punishing those who have broken the law to prevent repetition of the offense.


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Civil law – dealing with disputes between individuals or groups in society. Winning compensation for the victim which was the result of negligence (eg. damage to another car which was an accident due to not putting the handbrake on). This may also be in the form of injunction, where the court requires defendant – individual or organization, to modify their behavior or actions (eg. fumes from a factory). Special damages are payable for loss of earnings in the pre-trial period, for medical expenses and for any damage to property.

Citizens Advice Bureau – 70% of people who could make a valid claim for personal injury compensation don’t do so, perhaps because they don’t believe they are entitled or don’t think it is worth the effort. The claim is calculated according to the nature of the injuries.

Sheridan (2006) - claimed £200,000 as compensation for printing stories which weren’t proven as true (about adultery and cocaine, ect.)

Criminal law – revenge by society, protection of society (eg. unable to re-offend whilst in prison), deterrence (ensures offender never commits the crime again), rehabilitation (program to reform their behavior and break the cycle of offending).

Community sentences – makes offender do something useful in society, such as carry out a certain amount of unpaid community work or placed on probation, where restrictions are placed and a prohibition officer monitors their progress and helps them to improve their lives.

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Jury system - where 12 members represent a cross-section of society and all are asked to take an unbiased approach to the case. This is meant to bring the law closer to the people. Used in small number of criminal and civil cases and not used if the accused pleads guilty or is already deemed guilty. Chosen at random in order to be representative. Also, local people are more likely to understand local circumstances. Critics argue that they are two expensive as they can last days or weeks and that they are inappropriate to deal with highly complex cases and evidence. They may also be easily swayed by skilful legal representatives and liable to intimidation.

Lay Magistrates – three people from a local community with no legal qualifications and are unpaid. Hear 95% of cases in England and Wales. Also, civil matters. They are appointed on the advice of advisory panels of each area. They give at least 26 days a year, including training and preparation time. They are legally entitled to time off work, but employers are under no obligation to pay for the loss of hours. They should understand reasoned argument and be sensitive to circumstances and problems in their community. The aim is to ensure an age, gender and ethnicity balance. They are less expensive, avoid leaving the legal system in the hand of professionals, they also know the area and are socially representative. However, people guilty of similar crimes can be trated differently – inconsistency and may be more likely to convict. It may also be unrepresentative due to middle-aged, self-employed and retired people taking place.

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Restorative Justice – focusing on restoring the losses suffered by victims, holding offenders accountable for the harm they have caused and building peace in communities. It is becoming more widespread in the youth justice system. This can be done through direct mediation (face to face, with facilitator) or indirect mediation (communication through letter passed on by facilitator). Examples – removing graffiti or writing a letter of apology.

Access to Law – everyone should have this. Some people may not pursue legal action when appropriate, due to not understanding the law and their rights, fear of costs and difficulty of getting time off work for solicitor and court. Only 20% on compensatory claimants get to the stage of seeking advice. In recent years, advertisements of legal firms have been made (eg. yellow pages) and some opportunity for cheaper advice is available. Money has been the traditional barrier to equal access and equality before the law.

Legal professions: solicitors and barristers – though the same amount of training and professions are broadly similar, barristers have always been regarded as more senior and prestigious.

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Legal Representation

Most barristers are - self-employed, practice in chambers and make a living from advancing an argument on someone else’s behalf (in higher courts, on behalf of clients who need representation). Usually act on direction of a solicitor with little interaction with individual. Members of the public that are in need to legal advice go to a solicitor. They are also involved in providing specialist opinions on complex matters of law.

Most judges – are appointed from the ranks of barristers.

Solicitors – some work for multicultural City firms, but most operate from small private practices. They may also be found working for civil service, local government, etc. Most offer general legal advice on such as buying a home. They are the first people contacted when legal advice is required. Some specialise in areas, such as divorce. They may write letter on people’s behalf, write wills, etc. Most of the work is pre-trial (eg. facts of case and witnesses), some are also qualified to represent their clients in court.

In the past - the wealthy paid their own legal expenses, the poor received legal aid and many of those in-between were unable to gain access.

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Legal Aid – was replaced with Community Legal Service Fund, which negotiates contracts with solicitors and other firms. However, often, relevant agencies are uninterested. It provides legal assistance over legal rights and responsibilities and gives general information. Includes matters such as credit/debit, housing, migration and divorce. Entitlement depends on disposable income and the prospect of success, etc.

Criminal Defence Service – people under police investigation or facing criminal charges can get legal advice and representation.

Citizens Advice Bureau – another source of advice and practical help. The funding is raised locally and the commitment of trained volunteers from local communities - run it, as independent charities. Including helping resolve to legal, money, housing, employment, etc.

Tribunals – like court hearing, but more informal, attempt to resolve issues efficiently and speedily and are less expensive. Domestic tribunals operate within a particular profession or industry (eg. General Medical Council – to remove a doctor from the register if they have done something wrong, for example.) Administrative tribunals resolve dispute between the individual and state, in cases involving administrative law. They have been established by legislation. (eg. education and immigration) Tribunals make an award, rather than a judgement.

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Ombudsmen – deal with complaints against the government and its agencies. Their role is to investigate and produce a report on cases. Usually concerned with the way in which decisions are made.

Alternative disputes resolution – become more significant, due to costs, delay and formality of court proceedings. Also, some technical conflicts are more conveniently handled by those who specialize in a particular field, rather than judges.

Mediation – often in civil proceedings, where the parties are brought together in hope that a common ground can be reached (eg. commercial and personal disputes) For example, in matrimonial cases, to try and see if reconciliation can be made with partners or sort the issues of children involved in a separation.

Conciliation – inviting disputing parties to an informal meeting to seek a solution. (eg. between employers and workers or neighbours)

Arbitration – handled by someone with expertise in the field who ensures that each side has the chance to air their case and then issues a verdict based on the understanding of the issues put forward and the need to reach a fair outcome. Informal and does not endanger the relationship between the two sides. (eg. dissatisfaction of travel services)

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