BIRDS – flown the coop – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
Imagine that you lived in a country where there was One Law. Not that this would be anything like that other salutary nation-state where there is – or is to be – One Country, One Law. But rather, it would be an overarching law that transcended and superseded all other laws. And it would be written not in that country’s supreme writ… rather: in air, water, fantasy, and other rock solid creative imaginative averments.
This country would, of course, have a plethora of lower laws. These would include ‘Thou shalt not murder’ and ‘Thou shalt not presume to be seated in thine august assembly which passeth, and passeth strange, for thy houses of parliament’. However this would be transcended and superseded by the one – greater – law.
Shall we examine the recent case in point which illustrates the principle of a super-law such as this in a super-lawful country such as that?
Very well, then! “You asked for it” – as the Speaker of the House said in that super-imaginary country to the Seeker of the Keys to the House being sworn in as an MP: Manumitted Prisoner.
Imagine that this Seeker is a rough diamond as regards the political party he represents. Well, more ‘rough’ than ‘diamond’! But “never mind that now,” as the Court of Appeasement in that country said to the Courteous Appellant seeking enlargement from prison and entry into parliament.
Then, imagine that – time and again in the past – he wins his electorate for his party and his political patrons. He is insuperable on the ground and insufferable in victory. But once upon a time, he subjects himself to a regrettable incident that causes the laws of his country to clash with one another. He allegedly commits murder. And when the offensive weapon goes off, it is an accident, of course. As is the accidental death of the unintended victim – who, as it happens only too often in a country where the victims are much bolder, brave, brazen, etcetera than the villains of the piece – was, by the way, running away…
Of course, lower laws of the land come into play. So do – as the Seeker would tell the Speaker, and other Hearers in the House, later – the lesser politics of that country. He would argue for the sake of Hansard that it is his fundamental right, that his trial was fixed, and (echoing the Speaker’s subsequent sentiments in response to the protest of the few owls in a parliament of fowls) that those who protest at his swearing in should be ashamed of their pettiness.
It is not hard to separate the ‘empty headpiece filled with straw’ scarecrows smiling at the triumphal parade of death row – from the craven ravens, arm-banding together in black. In the limit, the imprisoned ‘zero’ becomes a legislative ‘hero’… something of a cause célèbre among his parliamentary peers, to boot.
En route, he challenges the lower laws of the land – both written and unspoken. That an alleged criminal must not be nominated for the role of putative lawmaker (uncivil)! And such a felon – if convicted in a court of law – can never be fielded as an electoral candidate (unsporting)! As well as not sworn in as a representative of a rather sizeable number of otherwise law-abiding citizens (unheard of)!
En passant, his case critically engages the imagination of the lawful society of which he is a part… albeit a disreputable and a discredited part…
“Is it fair?” asks one angry interlocutor on social media. “It’s all dirty politics,” shrugs another.
“Is it right?” asks some other indignant appellant. “It’s still democracy,” suggests another slyly, hinting that in a majoritarian polity, might is right and populism is nationalism.
“Is it legal or lawful?” asks a final utterly peeved challenger. There is an awful pause in the blogosphere. Then a meek voice pipes up from among the Twitterati. “There is a greater law at work here…” – and just like that, the ranks of Tuscany fall silent. The pique is over. The deed has been done. And after all has been said and done, who is to say that democracy has not triumphed over decency? Or just-so thinking over justice? Or One Law over all others?
Once upon a time in this land, it was the time of the lawful and law-abiding. Well, that didn’t last very long. Then, after the space of two shakes of a judge’s head, came the awful outlaws – robber barons and their like. Very soon after that, it was the time of the unlawful in-laws. Now, however, in this land like no other – with a supreme writ of sorts that arches over all and sundry – it is the time of the God-Awful Overarching Law (GAOL).
It won’t be the first time (or the last?) that the GAOL has been used to spring offenders from gaol. The recent history of that other country is replete with at least one egregious example of a convicted murderer being enlarged, at the pleasure of the executive arm of governance. In fact, one suspects it won’t be the last time that this ‘get out of jail free’ card is played by the powers that be. That must give one – if one lived in such a super-lawful land – pause. As well as cause for concern? And a drugged feeling of walking about under a supra-legal cloud.
Nor is this country – not ours, but theirs, and they’re welcome to it – the only one in which grievous offenders have presumed to make or shape the laws of their land. One ironic example would be Sir Thomas Malory, the 14th Century compiler of the romantic sagas of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Extant records from the period he was composing the gallant narrative reveal that the author-MP was hardly chivalrous himself, having forced himself on the wife of a certain Henry Smith – in addition to being guilty of manslaughter.
There is much to be learned from chivalry being dead in – not ours, but – their country. For one, you can’t call the cavalry to rescue one from a murder of crows in a parliament of fowls. The latter sit there, smugly congratulating their fellow gallows-bait... while the former wear black armbands – fatuous little, far too late to make any difference – and flap about like pigeons feasting with panthers. For another, even if you try, it would soon appear – as it did the other day, there – that the Speaker of the House had recused himself in favour of the Seeker.
Just don’t ever compare and/or contrast this Land Like No Other with our own blue-green and pleasant country. Never say we are like that. Imagine – us… A lawful, virtuous, disciplined society: we’d not stoop so lawlessly low to conquer.
(Journalist | Editor-at-Large of LMD | Writer | Student)