1.3 Perceptions of law
Our ideas about ‘law’ are shaped through images and encounters, and these also affect our expectations of law. They also have an impact on our reaction to legal intervention, law makers, law breakers and law enforcers.
Activity 1 Thinking about ‘law’?
- a.Write down any words, images or phrases you associate with ‘law’ in the textbox below.
- b.Once you have compiled a list, see if you can separate your observations into positive and negative attributes, adding these to the table below.
|Positive attributes||Negative attributes|
There is no right answer to this activity. It will have provoked a range of responses and ideas about law. Traditional images of law often involve a statue of a female figure wearing a blindfold with scales in one hand and a sword in another. The blindfold represents impartiality, scales the weighing of evidence and the sword used to convey authority and the idea that justice can be swift. More modern images in the media tend to concentrate on crimes, violence, police officers, court cases, offenders, victims, issues raised by use of social media and the internet, investigations and environmental pollution. Legal cases are often used as the basis for film and serialised dramas. These all build a picture of law and the legal system, a picture which may not reflect reality.
Whether you thought a word or image had positive or negative attributes will depend on your own views and personal experience and your studies on this course will either reinforce or challenge your initial views. Your impressions, pre-existing knowledge and personal values all affect your engagement with the ‘law’ and being able to identify and think about this at an early stage in your studies provides you with a basis on which to build.
The word cloud in Figure 5 contains words that a number of our colleagues identified when we asked them to think of words they associated with law. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list but rather an illustration of the range of words and responses that can be given to the question ‘write down any words you associate with ‘law’.
Law has an image problem, which, while not entirely undeserved, needs to be addressed in a society where there are concerns about inequality of access to law. This has clear implications for promoting social justice. Understanding ‘law’ and its role can be empowering. The course authors hope that through your exploration of the examples of ‘law’ and the work of individuals and organisations in later weeks you will gain an appreciation of the role played by law and by the individuals and organisations who have pursued and sought change using the ‘law’ and legal system to achieve their aims. Over the centuries, the ‘law’ has been used as a driver or response to change in many areas. It has been the tool of choice for many who have campaigned and worked to ensure that changes within society take place. The changes sought have been many and include equality, land rights, workers’ rights, education, health, taxes, technology, transport, citizen’s rights, communication, cultural property, medical treatment, the right to rule and right to govern. We hope that the examples you explore will help inspire you to think about a matter you would like to see changed and to think about how that might be achieved.