From Catalonia: Are laws always right?

At its heart, the battle between Spanish and Catalan powers is a battle of laws.  Spanish politicians defend themselves with the shield of the Constitution while Catalan politicians attack with newly passed laws.

The Spanish government has been under pressure for years from the Spanish region of Catalonia’s wish for more autonomy.  The battle has come to a head this autumn with Catalonia holding an independence referendum culminating in a declaration of independence.  Following this, the Spanish government suspended the region’s powers and took control.

The Spanish central government argues that Catalan Independence is outside ‘the framework of the constitution and the law’.  The Constitution, similar to that in the US, is a set of laws which act as the rulebook for governance.  Created following the end of Franco’s dictatorship in 1978, the Constitution outlines the unbreakable ‘unity of the Spanish nation’.

Based on this rulebook, the central government in Madrid has prevented the break-up of Catalonia from Spain.  Firstly, Madrid blocked ‘illegal’ laws passed by the Catalan government to enable a regional referendum.   Latterly, Madrid dissolved the Catalan government following their ‘illegal’ declaration of independence based on Article 155.  Whenever questioned on these actions, the Spanish Prime Minister has repeated the rulebook’s refrain that Catalan independence is against the law.

But, when following the law, means Spanish police injuring hundreds of referendum voters and the arrest of Catalan politicians, you begin to wonder whether the law is always right.

In fact, when you look at the world, it is clear that laws can be outright wrong.  In Saudi Arabia, for instance, it is legal for 9 year olds to marry and, elsewhere, it is legal to punish homosexuality with death.  Nazi Germany operated under many laws but very few of them were morally right.

Likewise, laws aren’t always logical.  In Vermont, for instance, it is illegal for a woman to wear false teeth without her husband’s permission.  And in Britain, it is illegal to be drunk in a pub.  These laws may be hilarious but they are in no way logical – and they don’t always serve the needs of a population.

Thankfully ineffectual and immoral laws can and do change. I mean, if the laws in Spain hadn’t changed, Franco’s rules would have continued and the Constitution wouldn’t exist in the first place.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Spanish government has neglected to note this.  Instead, they refer to the laws as if they are set in stone and as if they have no choice but to follow them.

As the legal battle continues, it remains unclear whether the Spanish government is right to prevent Catalan independence.   But what is increasingly clear is that following the law for the sake of following it isn’t a good enough reason.

Laws may be righteous but that doesn’t mean they’re right.

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