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Law essay-Legal Rights and Responsibilities

This essay seeks to examine how and why legal rights and responsibilities are regulated in different ways over the course of an individual’s life. It will take you on a journey to look at the various stages of life and illustrate the ways a life is regulated both with criminal and civil liability. As a baby grows up through childhood into adolescence, they are increasingly able to appreciate the consequences of their actions. Teenagers explore their independence and reach adulthood at eighteen when they assume full rights and responsibilities (Goody and Silver, 2012). The adult may also become a parent with legal responsibilities. Finally the essay looks at how an elderly individual may be treated in different ways by the law.

A child's birth is an amazing experience for both parents and it is when the foetus becomes physically separate from its mother that it becomes a legal person and deemed to have gained a legal personality. It is now officially recognized by the state to protect it as it grows up.

A child growing up is acquiring more rights and responsibilities as they mature, and probably the most significant is the right to free education. Prior to ten years of age a child can not commit a crime as the law regards them as not knowing the difference between right and wrong. From ten years of age and on, a child becomes criminally responsible and is now treated as having sufficient understanding of the serious nature of their actions. They will be held accountable for those actions in the same way as an adult (Goody and Silver, 2012).

In civil law a child can be held responsible but the age of responsibility is more complicated, with different ages and “tests”. In such cases the law adopts a common sense approach, as illustrated in Mullin V Richards [1998] 1 ALL ER 920. In this case two fifteen year olds were in a play fight with plastic rulers when one of the rulers shattered causing an eye injury. The court decided the girls could not appreciate the chance of injury and were not being careless.

This approach is also adopted in giving consent to medical treatment under the Family Law Act 1969. From sixteen years of age a child can give their own consent as the law now considers they have sufficient mental capacity to understand the implications of treatment. Following the Gillick V West Norfolk and Wisbeach health authority [1986] AC 112 case it was decided that if a child under sixteen was sufficiently mature to understand the implications of such treatment they could give their consent. This became known as “Gillick competency”.

Children growing up often want to earn extra pocket money of their own. From thirteen years of age children are able to do limited work under strict government rules on children’s employment. Children however are not able to enter into a contract, and this serves to protect them from being coerced by unscrupulous businesses.

An individual reaching eighteen is deemed to have reached adulthood and will assume full rights and responsibilities. The law also recognizes that certain individuals may have limited rights and responsibilities, for example undischarged bankruptcy or having mental health problems. There are also occasions when adults are unable to appreciate the consequences of their actions, meaning they may lack legal capacity i.e. someone who has been involved in an accident.

Full adult rights and responsibilities as far as the law is concerned fall into two classifications. These are civil and criminal law and both have different purposes and are dealt with in different systems. Criminal law is there for the protection of society whilst civil law is used to settle disputes between individuals including organizations and companies. Civil law additionally provides remedies such as damages. Goodey & Silver (2012) report criminal law is also clear on responsibilities, for example to respect one another's...
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