Essay: LES INIUSTA NON EST LEX (AN UNJUST LAW IS NOT LAW AT ALL)

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  • Subject area(s): Law essays
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  • Published on: July 6, 2019
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The laws were designed to keep Justice in the land it governs for the safety of the people who live there while an unjust law is not true justice because a just law is a law that is fair and balanced for people being governed. Laws exist to preserve justice in society, so if a law is unjust (unfair), then it defeats the whole purpose of having a law in place at all. How do you defend a law that promotes jungle justice, a law that aids rape or a law that seeks to protect armed robbers? The sole essence of law is for serene and peaceful environment. Like we have in an ancient proverb that a place without sin automatically has no punishment, it automatically says where there is no law, there is no sin, and if crimes and offences do not amount to sin because of absence of law in a particular society, we can easily sense how deadly and dangerous such society will be. Same applies to laws that are unjust and immoral, laws that promote offences against human existence, for example, a law that promotes syphoning public funds or a law that serves as an escape route or shield for criminals.

Lex iniusta non est lex (an unjust law is no law at all), is a regular legal saying. It originates with St. Augustine and was used by St. Thomas Aquinas . This view is strongly associated with natural law theorists, including John Finnis and Lon Fuller . An unjust law is no law at all,” is a quote by St. Augustine that Martin Luther King, Jr., used in his letter responding to the letter of the eight white clergymen. The quote is King’s defense for his act of disobeying the law of segregation. King’s letter explains why there is injustice in segregation and calls for justice from these laws. The letter effectively uses examples of the laws to justify his action. Also, other examples include the Church and God, as well as examples of common sense to convince the Christian group and the middle and educated class to follow his actions and faith. Responding to the accusations of the letter on breaking the laws, King gives facts and examples to justify his actions. He replies, the reason for him of disobeying the law of segregation is that he has simply obeyed the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in public school. However by obeying the court’s decision, he is breaking the laws of segregations. Thus the two are in contradiction with each other. King then asks, how can people know which law is to obey and which is not to? He reveals that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. Using the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, King explains and gave definition to unjust laws. He said that “Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” The King also reasons that an unjust law is law that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” such as laws of segregations. Segregation makes black people feel or even believe that they are inferior to white people. Contrary, it also makes white people feel that they are the superior, whereas black and white are all human beings and should be treated the same.

Finnis correctly emphasizes that a law’s injustice does not necessarily deprive that law of all legal validity even though its injustice may deprive it of moral obligation. The injustice of a law may be argued to deprive that law of obligatory power in the “intrasystemic sense,” in which, for example, the Constitution itself may incorporate standards of justice. Another manner in which Finnis examines the question whether the injustice of a law affects the obligation to obey it arises when a nation’s highest court has ruled that an allegedly unjust law is not unjust or, if unjust, that it is still binding law. The question in its third sense therefore arises in clear-cut form when one is confident that the legal institutions of one’s community will not accept that the law in question is affected by the injustice one discerns in it. The question can be stated thus: Given that legal obligation presumptively entails a moral obligation, and that the legal system is by and large just, does a specific unjust law enforce upon me any moral responsibility to obey to?

When we discuss unjust laws, we cannot but discuss morality and conscience and so also, the God factor comes into place. Any law that is not just, repugnant to clear conscience and natural justice is no law and should be disregarded, and if such law is enforced, the society where such is enforced should come together and get the law repealed either by referendum or by choosing new leaders that will tow the path of reasoning. What it means is that there is such a thing as a higher law.

There is a set of ideals that all people should try to follow and a set of rights that all people have, regardless of whether their governments give them those things. An unjust law is not legitimate and there can be no moral reason that you should have to follow that law that is unjust and repugnant to clear conscience. What can make a law unjust? Many reasons and defects can make a law unjust, any law that tends to raise a religion above the other can be taken to be unjust because such a law can create unrest and aid religious intolerance. Any law that seeks to promote inhumane policies such as slavery and servitude can be said to be unjust although in certain situations, the essence of such law can be defended by the government.

A law can be just in a region and unjust in another region, take for instance the legalisation of gay marriage in the United States of America and its outright rejection in Arab world simply because the Arabs are morally intensified and culturally sophisticated, the tenets of man above woman etc. would never allow such law to be made just in any Arab nation

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