Saturday, March 13, 2010

Legislation, we hardly know ye.

One of the subjects I'm currently studying is Law, Regulations and Ethics. Since it's part of a finance course, the law part of it is pretty much the Corporations Act 2001 (Aust), and a few other related bits and pieces like the Corporations Regulations 2001 (Aust) and the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Funding Act (2006), but it's given me more of an understanding of how legislation reads.

The first thing is that law is confusing. This is the main reason lawyers make big bucks. They need to know this stuff inside and out and they need to know a lot of it. I barely dented Chapter 7 of the Corporations Act, let alone the whole thing.

There are a number of reasons why the law is confusing. The main reason for this is the fact that so much of it is indirect. Take the Corporations Act. Section 1311 starts out by saying that anyone who does something that is prohibited by the act or doesn't do something required by the act is guilty of an offense. But then it goes on to say that they're guilty of an offense for some things only if a penalty is listed in schedule 3. Fortunately schedule 3 is pretty straightforward.

Then there's the language used. From what I've seen every act has a list of definitions in there somewhere. This is because words don't always mean what they normally do. Sometimes this is because the normal meaning is a bit vague in what it covers, or sometimes they want a word to cover other things like it, but not quite the same.

There's also a lot of language that makes you wonder just how pedantic the people writing this are. Take for example this lovely bit of prose
(1) A margin lending facility is:

(a) a standard margin lending facility; or

(b) a non‑standard margin lending facility; or

(c) a facility of a kind that has been declared by ASIC to be a margin lending facility under subsection (8);

unless the facility is of a kind that has been declared by ASIC not to be a margin lending facility under subsection (9).

So a margin lending facility is either a standard or a non-standard margin lending facility, or something ASIC has said is a margin lending facility, unless ASIC has said it isn't. All very clear. Fortunately it does go on to give a bit more detail as to what a standard and non-standard margin lending facility are, but still.

This also makes me think about the idea that ignorance of the law is no excuse. There are great swathes of the law I'm completely ignorant about, and likely the bits I think I know about I have huge misconceptions about. We all know the basic stuff like don't steal, don't kill, don't run red lights, etc, but what does the average person actually know of the law? Now, I'll admit there's not much chance the average person is going to commit an offense under the Corporations Act without knowing it, but what other laws are lurking out there that we don't know of.

There are certainly expectations that people who want to do certain things are aware of the relevant laws. People need to prove they know the rules of the road to be able to get a license. To get a financial services license you need to show that you know the relevant laws. But there's no requirement to know other sorts of laws to get by in everyday life. I think this is definitely a gap that needs to be filled. High school would probably be a good place to teach this, but I'm not sure how interested kids would be in it then, or how you would fit it in with all the other things schools have to teach. The more cynical part of me thinks maybe make it and stuff about our system of government part a course you have to pass to enroll to vote, although I don't think that would go down well, especially if you required everyone already enrolled to vote to go through it as well (maybe give them 10 years to pass the test or their off the roll)

No comments: