To what extent does criminal law reflect the moral and ethical standards of society?
Criminal law is a construct of the government, enforced through tangible measures. In a democratic society, the government is elected by the citizens, and as such, laws are generally conceived with the aim to reflect whatever ethical or moral standards are presently acceptable. However, in order to be truly effective, some legislation must circumvent current sociological viewpoints in order to create laws that are genuinely in the best interests of society. This results in a delicate balancing act, as lawmakers attempt to weigh the views of the majority against the need for laws to be both reasoned and objective. One example of law being a reflection of society’s current moral and ethical standards is the legislation which was instituted in the wake of the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre. Throughout the 80’s and early 90’s a series of massacres occurred, bringing an issue which had remained dormant for decades to the public’s attention: gun control laws. None of the massacres preceding Port Arthur had sufficient impact to shock the public, and therefore government into true, effective reform. However the Port Arthur Massacre remains Australia’s deadliest mass killing in history, and was unprecedented in the modern developed world; not even the United States has experienced a massacre of such magnitude. Accordingly it triggered widespread public disbelief and shock. The guns used to carry out the massacre were legal both in Tasmania and Queensland at the time; they had no civil purpose, they were designed for military use and thereby for killing other humans. With polls showing up to 85% of the population supported gun law reform, the newly elected Howard government immediately took the gun law proposals developed from the report of the 1988 National Committee on Violence and forced the states to incorporate them into law under the National Firearms Agreement (The constitution...
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