18 March 2013

Liberia: Laws and Punishment - Why the Necessity?


Can you imagine any society that will exist without laws? Certain lawlessness will be of high prevalence as there are no rules or regulations that members of such a given society must adhere to. Because of the great consequences in the absence of laws, societies and governments over the world have promulgated laws and regulations that are enforced by the status quo to guide the conduct and behavior of members of such societies.

In the book, Street Law, law is defined "as the set of rules and regulations made and enforced by the government that regulates the conduct of people within a society." The book went further to say that "laws generally reflect and promote a society's values. These values can be moral, economic, or political," and that as these values change, laws may change too. Another book refers to law as, "the body of rules recognized by a state or a community as binding on its members (citizens)."

To ensure compliance or adherence to these laws, every law that is made goes with punishment or penalty for any violation. However, these punishments or penalties should in no way suggest that there will be no deviants or miscreants who will always, despite these laid down penalties or punishments, try to flout the laws, but one thing that is clear is that those violating these laws are conversant or au courant that any act or action that contravenes the law, those responsible will bear the full weight of the law.

Generally it has been accepted that man cannot exist in any society without being guided or regulated. Culturally, this is why in various societies there are norms and values that are laid promulgated to be followed by members of such society, as deviation from such norms and values are not accepted. Even in the homes, there are rules and regulations that households of such homes must adhere to. I still recall how some of us as children received punishments from our parents for not following the rules; sometimes, just for staying out late against the hour set to be home. I do not know whether this still exists with this so-called "modern days" scenario.

I vividly recall during my days at the university of Liberia, there were rules that prohibited students from being absent from classes from certain number of days. If such happened then, there were certain penalties. Likewise in our offices and various organizations, there are ethics and etiquettes to be followed by employees and members. People who violate these are always punished. In the case of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), sometimes institutions or members are penalized for contravening its ethics. I do not know whether these rules still exist.

Incontestably, in any society where people allegedly break the laws and they are not made to face the full weight of the law, this will absolutely serve as a license or culture for others to flout the laws. These laws are not only limited to the state but other aspects of the society. As stated earlier, whether in a community, school, organization, groups or places of worship, these laws, unlike that of the state, may carry different nomenclatures, such as rules, regulations, stature, canon and ordinance. All of these also laid down penalties for any violation. These penalties may carry certain nomenclature. In the case of the church, the term 'excommunication' is usually used for those who have been expelled from the church.

.So you see, laws are necessary for any given society as anything contrary to this in any society, such a society will have itself to blame for encouraging lawlessness. When the culture of impunity becomes the order of the day, one should always expect people knowingly and consciously violating the laws because they know, to say it the Liberian way, "nothing will happen," and so such a society will always experience lawlessness.

Again, let me say that the existence of laws does not mean that people will not violate, but such violators are aware of the consequences of any violations.

There are many reasons why people are punished for breaking the laws. Three of these punishments are Retribution, Deterrence and Rehabilitation. Retribution refers to the "moral vengeance to satisfy society to make the offender suffer as much as the suffering caused." Deterrence is "the attempt to discourage crime by punishing." It is believed that citizens will not break the law because they know "the pain will outweigh the pleasure of the crime," while rehabilitation focuses on reform. It is intended to "reform the offender to prevent later offense."

Some may argue as to whether or not these punishments or penalties are necessary as people continue to violate the laws on a daily basis. Yes, these individuals may have all reasons for doubts about the effectiveness and efficacy of these punishments, as criminal activities continue unabated with these kinds of punishments and others. This may sound to reason; notwithstanding, these punishments are necessary as their absence will create rooms for lawlessness and disorderliness in the society. Really, I do not know where such a society exists without laws or rules to guide the conduct and behavior of its people.

I am referring to the issue of punishment because it is becoming increasingly clear that nowadays people engage in violent acts and go with impunity. Few weeks ago, it was reported that a group of motorcyclists burnt an ambulance on the Robertsfield Highway, following an accident incident. Today, nothing has been heard about those involved regarding prosecution.

Just few days ago, while I was attending the First Assembly of the Liberian National Bar Association in Harper, Maryland County and as a member of the Maryland County Bar I received information that Madam Miatta Fahnbulleh, a Liberian musical icon, was attacked by some individuals on the Capitol Building ground.

Actually, when I heard that she was attacked, lest did I expect that this would really occur on the grounds of the Capitol Building. But when I returned days later, I gathered that indeed the incident took place on the grounds of the Capitol Building. Will this latest case involving Madam Fahnbulleh be business as usual? I am concerned about this because of the place the incident took place. For people to have the audacity to attack another citizen for whatever reason, it beats my imagination.

As a nation that always speaks of this country being a place of "law and not men,' so it should be practical by enforcing the laws against individuals who violate them. To allow people to continue to violate the laws, without facing the weight of the law, then, this is only a license for others to commit crimes and go with impunity. Frankly, if we continue to allow these kinds of incidents to go without proper action, then, our society is doomed to be a place of lawlessness. This, we must not encourage. Therefore, let all of us resolve to fight lawlessness. Today, it is Miatta; tomorrow, it could be another person. Will it always be business as usual? I rest my case.

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