There’s a popular misconception about the legal system which a lot of technical people fall under which regards the legal system as a set of laws and the role of lawyers and judges is to enforce those laws. Such a mental model is understandable as it maps well to what we’re used to in the world of computers. The laws are the source code, the legal system is the machine and the citizen is the user. Unfortunately, it’s not correct.

Unfortunately, a too strict interpretation of this model can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings of the law. In a practical sense, laws aren’t laws until they’re applied. That not all laws are applied consistently and universally is a feature of the system, not a bug.

Al Capone was prosecuted for tax evasion. Do you really think the tax evasion law was put into place to catch tax evaders? No, it was deliberately put in place as an overly broad law that is only ever enforced when no other charges can be brought.

How laws are enforced add’s a more nuanced and flexible layer to the legal system which allows it to adapt to the complexities of human society. The issue of enforcement is often ignored (usually to the arguer’s advantage) in legal discussions and it leads to a distorted and absurdist view of the legal system.

PS: I’ve just noticed that my last blog post was the 100th post on this blog. Go me!

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