I read in a local paper recently that some guy was fined for parking his RV on the street. Doing so apparently violated some by-law because of the RV’s length. What bothers me more than the fact that stupid little by-laws like this exist is the following fact: when the victim of this by-law (who knew nothing about it) asked the city for a list of its by-laws so that he could comply with all of them, the city refused to give it to him, stating that there are too many by-laws to be giving out copies to everyone who asks for it.
Now, combine this with the old saw “ignorance of the law is no excuse”: how on earth is this fair? Personally, I believe that ignorance of the law is an excuse for precisely the reason that there are too many damned laws. No one can be expected to know them all. How can anyone be held accountable to arbitrary laws?
Now, I can see people being held accountable for laws based on fundamental wrongdoings that every person with a healthy conscious agrees with (i.e. murder, theft, etc.), even if they do not know the letter of those laws. However, holding people accountable to laws that they cannot be reasonably expected to know is not only wrong, but breeds disrespect for the entirety of the law among the people.
In my opinion, if cities are going to implement by-laws, the city should be responsible for publishing said laws and distributing them to all citizens. Also, violation of said by-laws should warrant a warning for the first offense (provided it’s not blatantly obvious the violator knew what he was doing). “Mystery fines” are not an acceptable way to enforce the law.
Going beyond the local by-law issue, there’s also the problem of there being way, way too many laws on the books at the national level. The number of laws a nation has is a sign of the degree of corruption in its legal system. And what’s worse about this situation is that we have a governing bodies whose job it is to write more laws, but there are no corresponding entities whose job it is to go over old laws and get rid of the ones that are no longer necessary. The system just keeps getting worse and worse.
To me, it seems that there is inherently wrong with the idea that there are far too many laws for any one person to ever know. Sure many laws are not applicable to most, but how would you know if you did not read every law?
Argh. This issue always gets me upset.