Posted by: Tina M | 15 July , 2013

Four Ways to Fix a broken Legal System

Great thoughts on how to make the legal system something useful again.

I had the opportunity to watch

Philip K. Howard on TEDtalks

describe the reality of our present day legal system and describe some ways to “fix” it. What I found most interesting was the way that our legal system has become so complicated that it actually slows progress. (You’d think as someone who works in Foster Care this would have been painfully obvious already).

He describes the culture shift that legal uncertainty has created when he says “People no longer feel free to act on their own best judgment”  (4:28) I can understand the obvious negative repercussions of making everyone second guess themselves (especially when put in positions of leadership), but I also have to beg the question of what harm comes when we do apply a “one size fits all” approach to legal problem solving. It seems like this is a trap that will always privilege the group in power over those they’d like to oppress. I think that’s where the specifics began to emerge, when identity groups and special interest groups began to carve out legislation to protect themselves. So what happens when we throw those things out in the interest of simplicity?

Well, I think that I’d like to dream of a place where simple legislation has to do with equity and respect, and that it will be enforced equitably.  Because as it is, there seems to be enough loop-holes to allow those with the power and knowledge to still do as they please. It’s hard to track the number of successes when we all see the daily failures of the systems we’ve built around us.

He talks about a “corrosion of authority” and again I wonder how we’ve managed to bring down all types of oppressive authoritarians (bad leaders, managers, teachers, doctors, professionals) without drafting an idea of who should have authority and how they should wield it.  This unfortunately left us with everyone on unsure footing, which does not lead to people’s best efforts. He describes the failure of law is the worst of both worlds, you can be sued for almost anything (any old idiot can sue you) AND the law is far too detailed for anyone to understand. Again, the parallels in the Foster Care system are clear- all the parties in these cases are clearly under-resourced and then asked to navigate a complicated and oppressive system. Four ways to fix

“For law to be a platform for freedom people have to trust it”

“We’ve become a system with bad values”

“You can’t run a society by the lowest common denominator”

I realize whatever doubts I had about his four point plan were the cause of my inability to imagine a world without oppression. It’s a beautiful dream to imagine laws that are simple enough for everyone to understand them and internalize them. So that every person could act with confidence that they knew what the consequences of their actions would be. Each person would have equal parts freedom and responsibility (and thus would’ve been taught to shoulder that responsibility). It would be filled with trust in each other, ourselves, and in the system that we’ve built.

I’m not sure how to get there, to unlearn all that is clouding our good judgments. But perhaps the first step is to have a clear vision of where we want to go (and what we’ll do when we get there!).

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