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Law and change: Scottish legal heroes
Law and change: Scottish legal heroes

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1.1 Thinking about law

Law affects us all on a daily basis. It is inextricably linked with our lives. It is seldom out of the news and is often portrayed in film and drama. Listen to the following audio in which one of the course authors, Carol Howells, shares some thoughts on law and legal systems.

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Before moving on to the next section you should attempt Activity 1 which asks you to think about words you associate with law making.

Activity 1 Words associated with law making

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Take a look at Figure 2 and identify the words that you associate with law making. Make a brief note of the reasons why you choose those words.

Figure 2 contains words that are commonly associated with law making.
Figure 2 Words associated with law making
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Comment

There is no one answer to this activity. Words (and images) we associate with law making are affected by our own individual experiences. Law can be seen as very traditional and associated with expensive costs, lengthy delays and arguments. It is often associated with negative perceptions and its history does little to assist this.

Law, however, can be used as a driver or tool for change. It can be used to make a difference. For example, think about how law has been used to change the law on our right to vote in parliamentary elections and how this has been used to promote democracy. In 1831 Scotland had a population of around 2.3 million and 4,500 men were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections. In 2017 out of a population of 5.4 million people, more than 4 million have the right to vote in parliamentary elections. The change was achieved through Acts of Parliament (the Parliament of Great Britain, the UK Parliament and Scottish Parliament).

Acts of Parliament:

  • gradually extended the right to vote in parliamentary elections to the male population (and not based solely on property ownership)
  • created the secret ballot vote
  • extended the right to vote to the female population
  • more recently, altered the age at which you can vote in parliamentary elections from the age of 18 to 16 (in elections for the Scottish Parliament).

These changes in turn reflected changes in society and were driven by individuals passionate about the need for change, for fairness and equality.

In Section 2 you look at the institutions to which the state has given law making powers within the current legal system.