Explain the distinction between the law and morals and consider the importance of the connection between them?

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Explain the distinction between the law and morals and consider the importance of the connection between them?

Law and morals have historically always been in conflict with each other. Before trying to define them as a relationship we must define them separately. A moral is a principal of right or wrong behaviour sanctioned by or resulting from ones conscience of ones ethical judgement. Morality is seen to be personal to the individual however some see morality as universal for example in the issues of murder and rape most if not all of society would condemn these two acts morally. Morals can only be backed up by ones conscience or by social condemnation of the individual. In any legal system there will be some overlap between legal and moral ideologies.

Many have tried to define law but no one has yet conceded a definition that is universally agreed upon. Therefore in order to gain an understanding of what law is we must look at the differences between the law and morality. Law and morality are clearly closely linked but there are ways in which they differ. Morality further inevitably depends on voluntary codes of conduct whereas law is enforceable. Breaches of moral rules are not usually subject to any formal adjudication while breaches of law will be ruled on by a formal legal system usually in the courts. Many types of behaviour exist that are considered to be immoral however no punishment exists for them like telling a lie for example. Furthermore some forms of behaviour are illegal but not seen as immoral such as speeding.

Sociologist Durkheim suggested that it is almost impossible to find a single set of moral values that would be acceptable to all members of a modern society. Both law and morality are said to be normative. This means that they both dictate the way in which people are expected to behave. Moral viewpoints can clearly have an enormous influence on the creating and changing of laws.

There have been many changes within the law to show a progression of change due to a change within people’s morals. For example the laws view on homosexuality has changed dramatically since the 1960s, in 1967 male homosexual sex was legalised and by 1994 the age of consent was reduced from 21 to 18 with this being further reduced in line with heterosexual sex in 2003 to 16 years of age. Recently in 2004 Civil Partnership Act has been introduced, this creates a new legal relationship of civil partnership; it seems here that the Law has actually been proactive in introducing this.

The law can be seen to be following morality in the case of R v R. In this case marital rape was ruled illegal and thus the law was changed so that a husband did not have irrevocable rights to do with his wife what he wanted. This change in the law was brought about due to changes over time and so a thing that was once perceived as morally right is now seen as immoral by the law and society. This is a clear indication of the relationship between both morality and the law as the law has changed due to a moral consensus against a mans right over a woman within marriage. This shift in attitude had taken place before 1991, but the time lapse between moral change and legal change was typical. Often it is the possession of effective political powers which finally determines which and whose definition of morality is reflected in the law.

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Over many years a debate has been growing over whether the law should support morals. There are two ideas that link in to this natural law and positivism. The idea of natural law is that law and morality should coincide. It follows that the law is to be found in the source of morality in question, this maybe religious scripture or the natural world.  At its extreme if the legal rules of a country are in contrast to the moral code the legal rules should be disobeyed.

Positivists however hold that if legal rules have been enacted ...

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