Sunday, November 28, 2010

Here’s why Govts should teach us Law at school

“Ignorance is no defence” is one of those legal clichés that has done its time round the world’s courts for long; proceeding to deny hundreds of this world’s illiterate folk a fair shot at justice.

The law, in all its grandeur, stands across the sea, well out of reach of the poor folk who it affects most. (The law never affects the rich; ask Ugandan Ministers if in doubt!)

The law then only stretches its famous ‘Long Arm’ to catch a poor fellow when he unwittingly, with hardly a malicious motive, double crosses one of its annoyingly many nerves. Anybody that has watched the movies The Gods Must Be Crazy will recall the Kalahari Bushman who was arrested for a crime that everybody in his society would gladly call an act of communal good.

He was then arraigned in court, compelled to take an oath and take a plea without knowing beans what on earth was going on. An equivalent of communal service was thrown at him as a sentence, and even till then, it’s not possible to affirm whether he knew that he was doing time.

This absurd set of conditions can and ought to be turned around.

For 16 years, children are submitted to an education system that, as Sir Appleby in the BBC series Yes Prime Minister said, only helps keep children out of mischief as their busy parents make money elsewhere.

The hot afternoons spent in an even hotter chemistry laboratory, trying to understand why oxygen makes a ‘pop sound’ happen to go to complete waste for at least 55 per cent of the affected students. And what about parts of a leaf, or even Christian religious education, as if the country has run out of churches?

Regardless of whatever vocational course the student’s life will take, they will always require the law’s protection, let alone basic knowledge of it. The state thus ought to call for an urgent overhaul of the curricula, and introduce courses in school that let students know some of the basic legislation in the land.

This could especially be done either in the middle of or at the end of high School. The scope of such studies would cover constitution provisions, especially those concerning rights and duties. Although this is currently done, it could be improved.

But more importantly, there should be a move to acquaint citizenry with such things as when can one be arrested, who can arrest them, what does one do when arrested, do they have a right to a lawyer to witness their arrest like the movies at times deceive, when does one apply for bail, what is bail/bond anyway...? It does no good to write these provisions and stick them away in statutes.

One Act that actually comes to mind here is the Penal Code Act of Uganda. A host of obnoxious laws fill the pages of this here act, including one that illegalises farting, yes farting. Now, how on earth is a poor fellow that never runs into the Code in all their life at school ever get to know this? The entire penal code should be a subject of study at school so that students can both know the sheer obstinacy of the legal regime at hand, and what laws are out there, waiting to latch at them.

Of course the lawyers will scream foul here. They want their wacky world exclusive, so that, they seem to be the only ‘learned fellows’ around, capable of interpreting the law. But hey, telling me that if I fart next to the LCI chairperson could win me a night in, does not cheat any lawyer out of a job, and so does informing me of legal provisions like the amount of money I will pay if I do a Tiger Woods, or the number of years I will serve if I actually do an R.Kelly.

Because many a folk don’t know beans what the law says or can’t get a lawyer for that matter, they have ended up paying huge bribes to corrupt cops after the latter accused them of committing such crimes as waking without identification.

But here is why it will never happen. Governments hate lawyers. They always rub them the wrong way because they know exactly what they (state) are not allowed to do, which they do anyway. And because these lawyers are always a pain in all the wrong places, governments just can’t stand a site of a country that has as many lawyers as there are students.

No comments:

Post a Comment