The law as a subject | Daily News

The law as a subject

The decision by the Government to include law as a subject in the school curriculum, while timely and commendable, whether the desired result of containing crime and other acts of wrongdoing by the future generation, as the intended objective, is moot indeed. What is involved here is a complex matter that has to take into account psychological factors. Most acts of crime are committed today with the full knowledge of their consequences. Also those involved in serious acts of crime such as murder and armed robbery are not found among the school going kind. We are also not short of members of the legal fraternity who are well capable of getting the worst criminal off the hook. All this will not be lost on the students of the new scheme to introduce the study of the law in our schools.

According to Justice and Prisons Reforms Minister Thalatha Athukorale Cabinet approval has been granted to make it compulsory for schools to conduct classes in the basic law and its application towards crime. She said that with the knowledge gained on the consequences and penalties for offences such as financial crimes, murder, rape, theft and robbery etc. they hoped to drastically reduce the commission of such offences by the younger generation in the future. She said if the people were given a full knowledge about what awaits them if they commit certain acts of crime this would certainly act as a strong deterrent against the commission of such crimes.

It is doubtful though that the law, as it stands at present, is going to act as a deterrent against the commission of crimes or other acts of wrongdoing. We say this because, the other day, a former MP who was convicted for non declaration assets, as required by law, got away by merely paying a paltry sum of Rs. 2,000 as a penalty.

This ex-MP who had gained notoriety as a drug baron and is now on death row for murder also got away with rape and a host of other offenses due to his close links to the then powers that be. There was also the little matter of a former Minister obtaining a Presidential pardon on behalf of his wife, who was also on death row, for the murder of his mistress. Presently we see politicians being paraded before the courts for their involvement in serious cases of financial fraud, only to be seen leaving the court premises, all smiles, after having got their cases postponed or obtaining bail. Then there was the instance of yet another former Minister, when summoned by the Bribery Commission to account for undeclared assets worth Rs. 400 million, gave it the slip by proffering the excuse of being bitten by a polanga (viper) though later the same day that worthy was seeing at an official function in robust health.

These, no doubt, stand out as the worst examples that would pour cold water on the efforts to divest young minds from the acts of crime and wrong doing. Far from acting as deterrents, this is nothing less than sheer contempt of the law. Even the Minister herself would agree that what needs to be done is to ensure the law is applied evenhandedly, and a guarantee that it (the law) would be implemented to the letter. All ambiguities in this regard should be removed if the would be offenders are to truly fear the law.

Regrettably, the law as it stands in this country, does not inspire much awe, for the manner in which it is implemented. Some persons are more equal before the law than the others. The present outcry against the arrest and detention of Buddhist monks and members of the armed forces for serious offences such as Contempt of Court and abductions and murder and the receptiveness to these outcries by certain political leaders too are bound to be viewed with skepticism by the students on the effectiveness of the law.

Besides, a knowledge of the law and the consequences of its infringement alone will not lead to the containment of crime in this country or for that matter anywhere in the world. A criminal commits the act with the full knowledge of the consequences of his action. All premeditated crimes are committed by criminal masterminds with the full knowledge of the law and after devising precautions to escape the long arm of the law. Equally, all murders, robberies, acts of fraud are committed with nary a care for the consequences. One has also to take into account that most of the murders committed today are alcohol driven or under sudden provocation. In such instances no amount of the knowledge of the law is going to help.

What needs to be done is trace the source of crime to its roots, which often stems from poverty, inequality, deprivation and other social factors. Besides, certain individuals are born with a criminal mindset and no amount of education of the law and knowledge of the legal consequences of criminal acts is going to change this basic fact.


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