Citizens and the law
All societies are based on rules, both written and unwritten.
Though rules can be annoying, they enable us to interact with other
people and organisations.
In some societies, the rules allow the strong to prey on the weak,
or those with power to treat outsiders as if they were less than
human. In New Zealand, we have written rules to protect against
such situations. New Zealand is often ranked among the top half-dozen
countries in the world in its respect for human rights.
We have rights that ensure a fair trial if accused of a crime, rights
to free speech, rights to privacy and to information, rights to
fair treatment from those who sell us products and services, and
rights to financial support from government when things are tough.
This benefits both our economy and our society.
But the rights we enjoy come with duties, too. The laws that protect
us also constrain our actions. We need to recognise that others
also have rights, which we should respect.
Unfortunately, there are those who decline, or find themselves unable,
to participate in such a rules-based society. In the past, we have
tended to respond to those who commit crimes with punishment. This
has not tended to deter further transgression.
The emphasis now is on reducing crime by rehabilitation of offenders,
and – more importantly – prevention. In the last few
years there have been encouraging moves towards a co-ordinated approach
in which agencies work together to help young people find a constructive
place in society.
Other agencies, such as those fostering rights, try to prevent people
from becoming alienated from society.
Still others focus on developing, through citizenship education,
an informed and responsible body of citizens willing and able to
discuss and debate the Parliament, government and law of their country
(and indeed of the international community).
Citizenship education also seeks the creation of a strong civil
society, the promotion of certain widely respected values, better
cross-cultural relationships, and even new political structures.
Understanding the link between citizenship and law is helped by
the aims and achievement objectives of the New Zealand social studies
curriculum. In studying social organisation, students are taught
to demonstrate knowledge of
- how participation within groups involves both responsibilities
- how and why people make and implement rules and laws
- how and why people seek to gain and maintain social justice
and human rights
- how and why people seek to safeguard the rights of consumers.
The social sciences curriculum project, involving public consultation
by the New Zealand Ministry of education in 2006, focused on
- people's identity and role as citizens.
This focus for learning in secondary schools leads in turn to social
inquiry through which students will understand
- people have different roles, rights and responsibilities as
part of their participation in groups
- cultural interaction impacts on cultures and societies
- contestable interpretations of the past that have consequences
for the present
- international organisations are established to protect social
justice and human rights.
The United Nations is a source of suggested rules, many of which
New Zealand adopts, through Parliament and government actions, as
its own. Law within and between nations can assist people to maintain
social justice, advance their rights, and participate in the society,
economy and political life.
How law works seeks to give readers a
broad understanding of how laws affect our society and are made,
how the legal system works, the rights we enjoy, how to get help
with rights and the law, and how we deal with those who break the
rules. It contains briefings from some of the key agencies involved.
It suggests further inquiry and action.
Find out more!
Centre for Citizenship Education
Box 3978, Wellington
Mobile: 027 242 2301
Updated from the DecisionMaker 2002 and earlier editions by
Anthony Haas, 5 March 2006
Judges admit young lawyers to the bar - authorising those who
have qualfied to represent citizens in the courts