LAW AND MORALITY
As previously stated, any means of social control which is not backed by law can at best be said to be a moral rule. However, there is a two way relationship between the law and morality. Most laws evolve from moral principles over time, making morality a very important influence on the laws of a particular society.
This has made it paramount for the relationship between law and morality to be discussed. In doing this, the meaning of morality would be expounded, the relativity of morality would be highlighted and the relationship between personal liberty and public morals would also be highlighted.
Morality can be defined as the principles concerning right and wrong or good and bad behaviour. They are principles used to evaluate the degree to which something is right or wrong, good or bad. Morality is developed by the society over time in order to help check the activities of its members. A society without morals would be unfathomable. This is due to the fact that if a society is without morals, it would find it difficult to exist in the first place.
However, there is a problem inherent in morality. This is the problem of relativity of morality. What a particular society might consider as immoral might be considered as normal by others. For example, Islamic Law frowns on the charging of interests for loans. On the other hand, the charging of interest is considered perfectly normal by the Western world.
It is due to this problem of the relativity of morality that law comes in to play an important role. The purpose of the law here is to give the moral view of the predominant members of the society the backing of the law. Once a moral rule is backed up by the law, all members of the society have to conform or they would face the sanctions provided by the law. In most cases, the idea of morality supported by the law is that of the predominant group in the society.
For example, in some Countries, homosexual marriages are recognised by the law because those societies have a predominantly liberal population. In conservative societies like Nigeria, homosexual marriages have been criminalised.
Another issue to be considered is that of individual liberty and public morality. In some societies, indecent acts committed in private are not punishable. But when they are been displayed in public or are being advertised, it would be punished by the law. A good example of this is the case of Shaw vs Director of Public prosecutions (1962) AC 220.
In this case, Shaw had published a booklet called ‘The Ladies Directory’ which advertised prostitution. He was charged with conspiracy to corrupt public morals. The last time anyone had been prosecuted under this offence was in the 18th century. Shaw urged the court not to enforce the law because it was outdated. The court disagreed with him and subsequently convicted him.
The above case is an example of where the law protects morality. If that particular offence is subsequently removed by the legislature, corrupting public morality would only be a matter of morality not backed by law.
In conclusion, the above has gone ahead to establish the relationship between Morality and law. The two need each other as without morality, there would be no laws and without law, moral rules would not be binding on members of society.
- O Sanni: Introduction To Nigerian Legal Method