1 Reflections on law
Parliamentary bodies create, codify, consolidate and amend laws. This is not the only way in which laws develop. Courts have a role in interpreting statutes according to legal principles, and their decisions (which are referred to as case law) must be taken into account before we can confidently state that a particular position is the law. Court decisions are also subject to appeal and review, so the law does not remain static. The fact that laws are not fixed can be frustrating for students and others who are seeking certainty and firm guidelines to underpin their practice. Another aspect of law which can also strike students as strange when they first study is that the law often fails to provide ready solutions to the dilemmas. It is not black and white and there are many grey areas. This dynamic quality of law, however, is its strength. It can change to reflect the needs of the society in which it operates, remaining relevant and current.
Law is not just a series of commands that dictate certain outcomes and impose obligations. It is also enabling and empowering, providing options for decision-makers to exercise choice. This aspect of law is particularly relevant in professional settings – for example, police officers, social workers, doctors, nurses – where roles are characterised by the need to exercise professional discretion. Although policies and procedures may set the parameters within which choice is exercised, it is often individual workers who make the decision about which legal option to take. Their choice will be influenced by a range of factors, including their knowledge and understanding, their experience of similar situations, the viability of available options, and their values.
Activity 1 Thinking about law
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The rest of this week provides an opportunity to develop your knowledge using some basic legal skills.