It could be argued that both the international and the Australian domestic legal systems have both been effective in responding to the need for law reform in modern society. There are four key conditions that have been identified as influencing the need for change to law. Both the parliament through statute law and the courts through common law have important roles to play in bringing about effective change. One important condition that gives rise to law reform is the changing of social values. This means reforming laws to suit the changes in society.
Social values are standards that guide people in the direction of wrong or right. The similar views society holds upon these standards is a reflection of public morality. Therefore, in order for the law to be abided and relevant to society it needs to reflect the social value of the people. An example of law reform in this area is seen amongst same-sex relationships. Changing social values led to same-sex couples being recognised as de facto relationships. This led to the Property (Relationships) Act 1984 (NSW). Therefore it is evident that the domestic legal system is effective in responding to changing social values.
Another important condition that gives rise to law reform relates to new concepts of justice. As social values change, so does the idea of justice. New concepts of justice come in when the law is incapable of delivering just outcomes to individuals and the community. An example of law reform in this area is seen in the case of capital punishment. The concept of justice shifted from retribution (a life for a life) to rehabilitation. This comes to show the effectiveness of the domestic legal system in responding to concepts of justice. Law reform is also influenced by new technology.
As technology advances, pressure is placed upon the need for the law to keep up. This is due to its continuous development. An example of law reform in this area is seen in the introduction of motor vehicles, where the law changed regarding safe driving and road safety rules. On a positive note, the introduction of DNA testing machines, have helped to solve many criminal matters. It is therefore seen that the domestic legal system if effective in keeping up with technological advancements. However, technology continues to advance and in order for the law to remain effective it needs to keep up with these changes.
A fourth condition that gives rise to law reform is the failure of existing laws. If a law is not being effective, there is a need for law reform. In order for there to be a law reform, a current law must be broken. An example of law reform is this area is seen in the case of AVO’s. Prior to reform, stalking wasn’t a part of putting can AVO on someone. After a woman was killed because of being stalked, the law changed and stalking was added to the AVO. The two agencies that are most influential in carrying out law reform are the parliament and the courts.
In relation to the parliament, statute law refers to laws passed in parliament. This entitles the state, territory and federal governments to all have the right to change the law. One example of recent law reform in relation to statute law in Australia, relates to ‘bikie gangs’ and making them illegal. These new laws provide police with powers to search ‘bikies’. It allows them to make court orders regarding the members that associate together. The courts are another important agency of law in Australia. Common law refers to laws passed by courts.
The doctrine of precedent is utilised whereby judges must resolve disputes on the basis of decisions made in similar cases. This alone deems the law effective in providing equality to society. One recent example of common law in action relates to Christian Rossiter, a man with spastic quadriplegia after being hit by a car. He argued with the Supreme Court to allow him to refuse the food he is fed by his carer. In doing this, he agreed to understand the consequences of dying, but to Christian dying was better than staying alive in pain. The law reform commission (LRC) in both NSW and Australia plays an important role.
The role of the LRC is to provide and improve access to justice, modernise and simplify the law, eliminate problems in the law, suggest new ways of administrating the law and providing justice and removing out dated and unnecessary laws. At the present time, the LRC is involved in many current projects which are helping in changing the law for the better. It is currently working on areas in bail, penalty notice offences, jury directions in criminal trials and people with cognitive and health problems in the criminal justice system. A case that determines a mechanism of law reform relates to Skye’s Law in NSW.
This this case the existing law appeared to be failing. In December 2009 a 19-month-old baby, Skye Sassine was killed in a road rage accident. Police were on a high speed chase after two alleged robbers in Sydney’s southwest. The law which was put in place by the NSW cabinet stated that anyone who leads a high speed chase will face jail terms of up to five years. Therefore it can be seen that both statute law and common law have been effective in allowing the legal system to respond to the need for law to make the legal system function in a more effective manner.
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