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Obligation To Obey Just Laws

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

“Lex injusta not est lex” means that an unjust law is no law at all, this maxim was given by a great philosopher Saint Augustine and later it was used by Thomas Aquinas and in 19th century during the civil rights movement this maxim was quoted by Martin Luther King. Different schools of law have given different meanings of law like natural law has said that the eternal law which is given by God is a just law, positive school of law said that the law enacted by the state is the just law. But the question is that, what compels the people to follow these laws? In natural law school of law, Socrates has explained that human being has a capability to distinguish between good laws and bad laws. He never denied the existence of positive law but obligation to follow these laws is based on human insight. According to him, if law is not just then human being can disobey these laws because according to natural law school, eternal laws are the greatest laws and the primary duty of the subjects is to follow these laws. Aristotle has explained that human being is a part of nature in two ways, firstly, he is created by the God and secondly human being possess insight and reason by which he can shape his will to follow the just laws. He also explained that the idea of law is emanated from human conscience and not from the human mind; hence natural law is more valuable than human law.


So from the thinkers of the natural law school we can understand that the obedience of natural law is depended upon human mind and human beings have capability to distinguish between just and unjust, natural law can be different in different places but the central idea of the natural law is always same everywhere, and people can interpret these laws according to the persistent situation but they cannot ignore the moral factor behind the laws. In ancient times, the king or queen were supposed to be the voice of the God and the subjects used to believe on them so laws made by these kings or queens were the just laws. And it was the duty of people to follow these laws. During 19th century the age of reason came into existence and during this age a proper reason was necessary for the enaction of any law and as a result legislative body came into existence and they decided that laws should be in written form and it is available to public at large. After 19th century various countries made laws in written form and it was the duty of the peoples to follow these laws. But the question again arisen that what is the guarantee that law made by legislative body is just laws? So we can say that these legislative bodies in many countries is democratic in nature and these are elected by the majority of the people and from this democratic body we can assume that people have faith on them and they will enact the laws according to the need of people. It can be that a just law for one person can be unjust for another like for a theft punishment may be wrong but for a public at large it is bona fide n nature.


Thus we can say that these legislative bodies enact laws for the general people not for individual personality. And if suppose the law enacted by legislative bodies is unjust then the people have power to go into the court of law and many times in India Supreme Court has declared invalid to the laws of legislative bodies. So we have power to interfere in the unjust laws of legislative body and legislative bodies have a support of majority of the population, we can say that law made by these bodies is just in nature and it is the duty of the peoples to follow these laws and disobedience of these laws may lead to sanction for the disobedience.


In democratic countries we can say that legislative body is elected by the people and people have faith on them, so they will enact the laws for the welfare of the people and if the law is for public good then it will always just in nature. But what about the non democratic counties, what compel to the people of non democratic countries to follow the laws? We can say that in non democratic countries legislative bodies may not have people’s faith but the fear of sanction may compel the people to follow these laws. And sometimes to run countries in a organised manner sanction is very important.


Therefore Non democratic countries are not morally wrong countries. But it is the situation of the countries that compel them to follow this principle. But if there is over tyranny in any state then people should disobey the unjust laws and they should revolt against such tyrannical government and fighting for own rights is not a morally bad act. So we can say that all the laws that govern to the world and to their respective counties should be just in nature and we cannot separate moral values completely from the just laws.


Adarsh Awasthi

Student - NLU Assam

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