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The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking

Law & Morality

Law, Liberty and Morality

The preface, written in 1963 by HLA Hart, to his published series of lectures on the meeting of morality and law, describes succinctly the painful process of separating religion and law which we in Ireland are still living with. The process can trace its roots at least as far back as the Enlightenment, but still remains a prickly issue in nearly all countries globally where there is perceived to be a dominant religious orthodoxy. Professor Hart s speaking about British Law.

In the words of the professor:

“The Suicide Act 1961, though it may directly affect the lives of few people, is something of a landmark in our legal history. It is the first Act of Parliament for at least a century to remove altogether the penalties of the criminal law from a practice both clearly condemned by conventional Christian morality and punishable by law. Many hope that the Suicide Act may be followed by further measures of reform and that certain forms of abortion, homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private, and certain forms of euthanasia will cease to be criminal offences; for they think that here, as in the case of suicide, the misery caused directly and indirectly by legal punishment outweighs any conceivable harm these practices may do. But the fate of the recommendations of the Wolfenden Committee does not encourage the belief that such reforms are likely in the near future. As our history only too clearly shows, it is comparatively easy to make criminal law and exceedingly difficult to unmake it.”

The law itself is not always a moral creature, but Professor Hart goes on to say that given the stick judges will apply a rigorous beating with it, against any wickedness.

In days when we are enacting laws against financial institutions, upholding proscriptions in support of religious beliefs, bringing in tariffs that are enshrined in law and generally upsetting the applecart, we should take heed. These changes will be around for a long time to come.

Law, Liberty and Morality, HLA Hart, Oxford Paperbacks, 1969

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