Morality and the law


by Rumbold
23rd October, 2007 at 4:57 pm    

A magistrate who refused to rule on cases involving the possible adoption of children by homosexual couples has been suspended, and has now taken the government to an employment tribunal:

“Andrew McClintock, 63, stood down from a family courts panel in Sheffield after he was refused permission to opt out of cases that could result in children being placed with same-sex parents.

The father of four argued that new laws extending homosexual rights were in conflict with his religious beliefs and his duty to put the welfare of the child first.”

I disagree strongly with his views, but I also believe that he should be free to hold them. The question in this case is whether or not a magistrate/judge should be allowed to refuse to preside over cases where his or her views conflict with the law. Judges and magistrates, like the police, are there to enforce the law, not to decide whether or not the law is worth enforcing. That is not to say that no law is unjust, merely that it is Parliament’s job to amend or scrape laws, not the judges’.

Mr. McClintock’s request to be allowed to rule on other cases instead seems at first quite reasonable, but do we really want our magistrates picking and choosing what cases suit them? If we go down the other route though and allow no leeway to magistrates, what are we then saying? Should doctors be forced to perform abortions? When morality and the law collide, which one should come out on top?


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  1. Morgoth — on 23rd October, 2007 at 5:07 pm  

    If this character cannot uphold the law equally for all, then he has no business being a magistrate. Its that simple.

  2. Don — on 23rd October, 2007 at 5:15 pm  

    Fair play to him for admitting that he could not apply the law impartially, but it is not practical to allow magistrates or judges to announce that they dislike certain groups of people and should be allowed to avoid such cases.

    How is it different from declaring that one is anti-semitic or racially prejudiced and should be excused cases where that is an issue?

    If a doctor is opposed to abortion, then I understand there exists an opt out. It would be a different matter if doctors could opt out of treating any group against whom they were bigotted.

    Where morality and the law collide, then morality should come out on top – just after you stop being an agent of the law.

  3. Ravi Naik — on 23rd October, 2007 at 6:37 pm  

    Mr. McClintock’s request to be allowed to rule on other cases instead seems at first quite reasonable, but do we really want our magistrates picking and choosing what cases suit them?

    The question is not whether it suits them, but whether they can be neutral. And in fact, if he didn’t excuse himself and judged against a homosexual couple for reasons beyond his prejudices, then the couple could claim that they were victims of discrimination if the judge’s personal opinion was known.

    “If a doctor is opposed to abortion, then I understand there exists an opt out. It would be a different matter if doctors could opt out of treating any group against whom they were bigotted.”

    What would be the benefit for a patient to be treated by a doctor who is bigotted or hateful against his her ethnic group? :)

    I think any professional whose decision affects our lives should have the right to opt out if she believes that there is a conflict of interest.

  4. Don — on 23rd October, 2007 at 7:38 pm  

    Ravi,
    How would that work in A&E?

    I think ‘Suck it up and do your damn job, if you want a pay-cheque’ might cover it.

  5. sahil — on 23rd October, 2007 at 7:39 pm  

    Anyone remember this case, it covered all over the media:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5408470.stm

  6. Sid — on 23rd October, 2007 at 8:17 pm  

    I’m with Don all the way down this thread. But then I’m more than happy for him to do all my thinking for me. :-)

  7. Ravi Naik — on 23rd October, 2007 at 10:36 pm  

    “I think ‘Suck it up and do your damn job, if you want a pay-cheque’ might cover it.”

    Not all professions are the same. I believe those who have to provide decisions or actions that directly affect your life and therefore require extra scrutiny, have the right to be excused – this is also to the benefit of the client.

    Doctors are obliged to treat everyone as they have the Hippocratic oath, so refusing to treat someone for their race is breaking that oath. It is ironic that performing an abortion also goes against the original oath.

    I must be the only one who feels this way, but as a brown guy I would *definitely* not want to be treated by someone who harbors hatred against my kind, or be judged by someone who also feels that way. And if I was a homosexual who wanted to adopt, I would want to make sure that the judge has no prejudices against gays – as much of the decision to allow a couple to adopt is based on interviews.

    What I am actually saying is that policemen, judges, doctors and so on who are racists and bigots should not be in a position to serve the community – if we have an attitude of saying “suck up and do your damn job”… guess who is going to be in the receiving-end?

  8. Don — on 23rd October, 2007 at 10:50 pm  

    Ravi,

    Which is why, if they can’t do the job equally, they can’t do the job.

    They don’t get to do bits of the job. I don’t think we disagree, do we?

  9. Don — on 23rd October, 2007 at 11:05 pm  

    Damn, Sunny. You closed the other post just as I’d composed something stinging.

  10. Sunny — on 23rd October, 2007 at 11:15 pm  

    I think Ravi’s point is that by declaring their prejudice, at least those potentially on the receiving end are spared it. If however police officers know they’ll be fired for admitting they are racist, then they may just not say anything, and continue discriminating.

  11. sahil — on 23rd October, 2007 at 11:24 pm  

    “If however police officers know they’ll be fired for admitting they are racist, then they may just not say anything, and continue discriminating.”

    But everyone has their biases and they may not even be aware of it. If someone knows that they have an moral issue with something at hand to ask to leave the case, then surely they can try and hold their own conscious biases at bay. The issue is when someone is either unaware of their biases or simply doesn’t care or does care but to dicriminate maliciously.

  12. Sunny — on 23rd October, 2007 at 11:30 pm  

    Don, well it was typical that a thread talking about how our discourse has become so lame descends into a lame discourse thanks to the ignorant rantings of Morgoth and even newmania (who is somewhat considered on other issues). I don’t really see the point in those slag-fests. And then Devil’s Kitchen arrived. By which time it’s not even worth engaging. Anyone who thinks Ann Coulter is intelligent isn’t worth my time.

  13. Devil's Kitchen — on 23rd October, 2007 at 11:37 pm  

    Sunny,

    You imply that I was ranting ignorantly on the other thread. I wasn’t.

    I made a perfectly reasonable point — that there is a massive difference between so-called Islamo-fascists and ordinary Muslims — and then Sid attempted to say that I condoned the mass internship of all brown people. I don’t.

    At all times I was courteous (OK, bar a couple of lapses with “prat” and “tit”) and tried to argue my case reasonably.

    I didn’t swear and I didn’t rant.

    What is your problem? Is it ‘cos I is white?

    DK

  14. Devil's Kitchen — on 23rd October, 2007 at 11:39 pm  

    P.S. I now accept that PP and the “progressive generation” is not a place for rational debate and so — as you will no doubt be delighted to hear — I shall not be back.

    DK

  15. Sunny — on 23rd October, 2007 at 11:55 pm  

    What is your problem? Is it ‘cos I is white?

    Yeah, of course, that’s exactly what it is. Bye and I’m happy for you not to bother coming back.

  16. Sid — on 24th October, 2007 at 1:29 am  

    and then Sid attempted to say that I condoned the mass internship of all brown people. I don’t.

    eh? I mentioned race in that exchange?

    What a complete juvenile. A legend in his own commode, surely. You so much as prod his dictats, worn like a sixth form badge of honour, and predictably enough, you’re either a “nasty little authoritarian” or an “unpleasant little authoritarian”.

  17. douglas clark — on 24th October, 2007 at 2:21 am  

    Sid,

    Choose ‘nasty’ or choose ‘authoritarian’. This reminds me of ‘have you stopped beating your wife yet?’

    Still your favourite juvenile delinquent, is off in a huff here:

    http://devilskitchen.me.uk/

    Third item down. It’s headed: “Sunny Hundal: intellectual pygmy, hypocrite and coward”

    Got to admire the pretty little public schoolboy’s accuaracy here, he spelt Sunny’s name right. Apart from that, er…

    Two points. Firstly he is quite nasty.

    And secondly:

    Interesting who’s in the comments there, isn’t it?

    Morgoth, we knew, we knew! But Newmania, really!

    Sad fuckers.

  18. Sunny — on 24th October, 2007 at 2:24 am  

    Douglas, I know. Funny, only a few days ago he was telling me I wasn’t important enough to write about. Now he’s throwing a hissy fit for getting dissed. Poor kid…

  19. douglas clark — on 24th October, 2007 at 3:02 am  

    Sunny,

    Yes. Just thought I’d share it with Sid, who did the heavy lifting.

    There are a lot of us here that think much as you do. Which is why we are here! Shock, horror!

    Can I suggest that you should trust your audience a bit more. Shutting down threads is, argueably, not the best practice.

    There are plenty of folk like Don and Sonia and Sid, who can argue stupid folk off this planet. I am suggesting that your core audience is not made up of idiots. And that letting them fight rather than be defended, would let them build confidence around progressive ideas? Including your own?

    I am suggesting that you let debate here continue, perhaps beyond your own tolerance levels, because your supporters are able to argue their own case? And that that they will win by force of arguement?

    Cutting out complete morons is not excepted, obviously.

    Just asking.

    douglas

  20. Sunny — on 24th October, 2007 at 5:17 am  

    Douglas, to clarify, I don’t doubt the ability of you guys to take apart the arguments of trolls like Morgoth (as we have done in the past with Amir, Muzumdar etc).

    It’s just that I don’t want this blog to turn into a place where there’s constant spitfire over opposing positions and people just ridiculing / cussing each other. Then it turns into the debased conversation of others blogs. This is why I’ve always deleted or banned constant trouble-makers.

    Morgoth / DK don’t come here to learn and honestly debate. They come here to fulminate and scream, and then keep shifting their pathetic arguments until the thread is destroyed of any sane discussion. I see little value in that. They can scream pathetically on their own blogs, doesn’t bother me. One could engage with them ad-infinitum until you have 400+ comments. But if they’re here only to troll there is little point in keeping it going.

  21. Sid — on 24th October, 2007 at 9:04 am  

    From his blog

    I really don’t know why I do this, but I got into a debate at Pickled Politics which turned into a steadily more ridiculous conversation during which you might be surprised to know that I uttered not a single swearword. My contributions start here.

    It got steadily sillier and sillier, although quite entertaining,

    and then you got trounced, lost the plot and argument you shameless little fuckhead. ;-)

  22. Arif — on 24th October, 2007 at 9:24 am  

    I think this is a really interesting issue. As laws change, we take different polotocal positions, and sometimes the law is bound to change in ways you do not like. If it changes in a fundamental way that you find unacceptable, then you should not co-operate with it. That is a matter of integrity, I think.

    He doesn’t seem to be using provocative language and seems to be acting in a reasonable manner. And we have to learn to live in this way with people we disagree with, it may be necessary if you are in a minority or relatively powerless, but it is important also if you are in a majority, when your arrogance will not be checked by the opinions of others.

  23. douglas clark — on 24th October, 2007 at 11:12 am  

    Sunny @ 20. Fair enough. My ‘aborted’ post was going to be about how someone says one thing in one post and changes their tune in another. It is probably not worth the effort.

    Sid @ 21: :-)

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