Is The Law Really Applied Equally?

Comack states; “While the pivotal point in the rule of law is ‘equality of all before the law’, the provision of formal equality in the legal sphere does not extend to the economic sphere. Thus, the law maintains only the appearance of equality because, it never calls into question the unequal and exploitative relationship between capital and labour.” This statement implies that the law is in place to be neutral. Therefore, the law would apply equally to everyone,  including both  the working and elite class. It can be said that  in today’s society we have the marketization of law making. Marketization of law making is a process that enables the elites to operate as market oriented firms by changing the legal environment in which they operate in. When the people who have power in our society can have an influence in law making, the laws that get created will not maintain the appearance of equality. The laws will start to benefit the big corporations (elites). This is well illustrated in Stan Cohen’s concept of the moral panic. A moral panic refers to the reaction of a group within society (elite) to the activities of a non elite group. The targeted group is seen as a threat to society also referred to as the folk devil. Elites may sometimes have a desire to criminalize the poor for many reasons. One of the reasons may be that the underprivileged members of society are living/“hanging” around in the neighbourhood where certain elites have invested. The goal for the elites is to get rid of the poor in these  neighbourhoods. These investors  do not want these areas to look like low income neighbourhoods. We can see here how the law is not applied equally to everyone. In this particular instance the law is benefiting the people with means. We can have the elites in society lobby and eventually criminalize the poor. An example of this would be the Safe Streets Act.

Another example of how the elites can use the law to their advantage is the famous Mods and Rockers riot. Mods tend to be “hipsters” of society and the Rockers are blue collar youth, they could be considered greasers. The Mods and Rockers hang out at a resort/beach, and a small breakout happens. Media portrays it as a riot and eventually these youth are criminalized and are not allowed to hang out at the resort. Business owners at the resort were allowed to get these Mods and Rockers away from the resort by mobilizing government and media. Elites thought these Mods and Rockers would be bad for business. Therefore, by using their power they were able to get the activities of the Mods and Rockers criminalized. Comack’s statement of how the legal sphere does not extend to the economic sphere is not valid. I have just provided a few examples, one in the Canadian context and one in history of how law is not applied equally to everyone. Law has always benefited the rich.

In R. v. Kahpeaysewat the offender argued for a conditional sentence. The offender was involved in domestic violence which ended with the death of a man (her boyfriend) and the woman was charged with manslaughter. On the evening of the crime, the victim had repeatedly attempted to engage in intimate contact despite the offender’s demands to be left alone.  She threw objects at him to try and get the man to leave the apartment. Her attempts were unsuccessful. She eventually grabbed a knife and stabbed her boyfriend and eventually killed him. Her attorney was arguing for a conditional sentence on the grounds that she is an aboriginal female, she is a high school drop out and a single mom. This woman took a man’s life. By no means was this man an angel but what the woman did is considered a criminal act. Taking someone’s life is taken very seriously in Canadian law. Based on the offenders background she was granted a conditional sentence. In this particular circumstance do you think the law was applied equally? The reason she got a different sentence was due to her background. This verdict implies that for the same crime, the law will be applied differently to a married caucasian woman with a high school diploma, than to an aboriginal woman. Under no circumstance could you say that the law is applied equally to everyone. This case is a great example how the law can be tweaked to take into account extra legal factors. In this exact same scenario, if the woman’s background was not one of a high school drop out and of a single aboriginal mom, the verdict would be different. This further proves the point that the law does not maintain an appearance of equality.

Comack states how the legal sphere does not extend to the economic sphere. I believe otherwise. There are many scenarios/cases out there that can prove otherwise. I believe after some close examination of some Canadian statues you could see inequality. Inequality of the law is also shown in some cases like R. v. Kahpeaysewat. A great way to see the provision of formal equity in the legal sphere extending to the economic sphere is to analyze the verdicts that are handed out to big corporations. Big corporations have been responsible for releasing toxins into the environment from their factories. This leads to multiple deaths. Most of the time these corporations do not face any consequences. At the worst they will pay some sort of fine. I have provided some examples and one case study that shows how the law operates to extend equality beyond the legal sphere.


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One response to “Is The Law Really Applied Equally?

  1. Your discussion of moral panics is interesting and effective – though it is important to note that while they may be driven by elites and moral entrepreneurs, they are only effective to the extent that they can mobilize broad public support (including support from the working class).

    At several points, you disagree with Comack, noting that:

    Comack’s statement of how the legal sphere does not extend to the economic sphere is not valid. I have just provided a few examples, one in the Canadian context and one in history of how law is not applied equally to everyone. Law has always benefited the rich.

    I think that you have misinterpreted Comack here. Comack is definitely not suggesting that the legal sphere does not influence the economic sphere. Rather, she is stating that the OVL’s commitments to formal legal equality (in the legal sphere) do not translate into a broader commitment to economic equality in society. I think that if you read this passage again, you will find that you and Comack are on the same page on this.