The Relationship Between Law and Morals Essay

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There have been many different views expressed by theorists regarding the relationship between law and morals, and these views have influenced many legal reforms. It is useful to begin with an explanation of the characteristics of, and distinctions between, legal and moral rules, before proceeding to explore areas of conscience and areas of divergence. Law was described by Sir John Salmond as ‘the body of principles recognised and applied by the state in the administration of justice’. Breach of legal rules will result in state sanctions and procedures. In criminal law there are sanctions such as imprisonment. In civil law the wrongdoer is usually ordered to compensate the victim. Other characteristics of legal rules are that they take effect at a precise time and require compulsory compliance by all members of society. An example is the Offences against the Person Act, which has applied to everyone since 1861. Society’s code of morality is defined by Phil Harris as a set of beliefs, values, principles and standards of behaviour. Unlike legal rules, compliance with moral rules is voluntary and enforcement is informal, usually through social or domestic pressure. Moral rules develop usually over long periods of time, as conduct becomes increasingly acceptable or unacceptable. In a pluralistic society, however, such as that in the UK, the moral duties of individuals vary. For example, while some individuals regard abortion or homosexuality as immoral, others do not. The relationship between legal and moral rules can be described as two intersecting circles. The intersection represents the coincidence of law and morals, and the areas outside the intersection represent areas of divergence. Long-established rules, for example those prohibiting murder or theft, can be traced back to a moral source, this being the Ten Commandments. However, there are

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