New Dawn, New Year – New Laws.

Hello all,

Firstly, may I start with expressing my hope that you had a wonderful New Year’s Eve, whether you were out and about, or staying in with family and friends. Again, allow me to say that I hope you have a wonderful year ahead, filled with every happiness and success.

Whilst I may be inundated with coursework planning and research for the next while, I could not help but notice the news yesterday pertaining to the new laws which shall come into effect in 2016. Not only shall this be the case in the UK, but the implementation of new laws is actually on a global scale. I found it fascinating to read about, and thought to share the legal developments and my thoughts on same with you in this post today. So, fellow law students – this is a post for you.

I will start with five new laws that will come into effect in the UK this year. I was surprised to find how far-reaching some of these will prove to be when I was reading about them.

  1. Stricter immigration rules for workers.
    According to new legislation that comes into effect from April 2016, If you come from outside the EU and you have been working in the UK for more than five years, you must be earning more than £35,000 a year, otherwise you will be deported to your country of origin.
    Evidence of the Conservative government attempting to reassure the public about their fears of immigration, perhaps?
  2. Higher minimum wage.
    The minimum wage for workers over the age of 25 is set to increase to £7.20 in April 2016. This is part of the move toward achieving a national minimum wage of £9 per hour by 2020.
    It should be noted however that even with this increase, the minimum wage will still fall sort of a national living wage. In addition, when you consider tax credit cuts, and the four-year freeze on working age benefits, many workers and their families will still face a real-terms loss of income in 2016 regardless of the aims of the new legislation.
  3. Reporting gender pay gaps in the workplace.
    The overall average pay gap between men and women is currently at 19.1%, and amongst part-time workers it is approaching 40%. With this in mind, note that currently companies only disclose information about their pay gaps on a voluntary basis. This is the case unless they are forced to do so following an accusation of sexist pay discrimination being brought against them in court. The new legislation  being finalised for 2016 will however force employers to disclose this information annually.
  4. New pension plans.
    The current, and lower basic state pension of £115.95 per week will be replaced this year. Effective from April 2016, there will be only a single-tier pension; a flat rate paid at £155.65 a week. Whilst this does replace the lower basic state pension, it will also replace both secondary and additional pensions, which would normally enable people to top up the basic rate.
    Unsurprisingly, there has been criticism that the new plans would result in people losing out.  Over 20 million workers are likely to be  £1000 plus worse off annually under the new deal. Furthermore, those who transferred part of their savings into private schemes for brief periods in the 1980s and 1990s may lose as much as £20,000.
  5. Smaller e-cigarettes and vapes.
    Under new European Union legislation, the maximum size of refill containers and cartridges for e-cigarettes shall be limited; to 10ml for a refill container and 2ml for the cartridge slotted into the e-cig itself.  The maximum nicotine strength shall be limited to 20mg. In addition, the EU will reserve the right to ban such devices outright, if three or more member states decide they are harmful enough to be rendered illegal.

 

The above should emphasise how the law can shape our lives and lifestyles, from how we work to our recreational habits. I think that sometimes we can forget how present and relevant the law truly is. I also think that we sometimes may also forget how many laws and regulations are passed each year, and how frequently our behaviour is governed. But I digress. On to the next part of the post!

This pertains to the legislation coming into effect in 2016 in other jurisdictions. Allow me to highlight the United States of America (I know, I may be biased given my study abroad year there.)

In the US, hundreds of new laws shall come into into effect starting from this past Friday. These will include the rules governing smoking and carrying guns in public, to regulations for mail-order wine. Below you can read my pick of these new laws.

Regarding smoking laws, Hawaii is now the first state in the nation to raise the legal smoking age to 21. This law applies not only to the sale or use of tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigars, but also to smoking e-cigarettes. (The EU is not the only one legislating in this area.)

In relation to guns, adults with the proper permits will no longer need to hide their handguns in their shoulder or belt holsters in the state of Texas. Proponents of this new open carry law argue that by making guns more visible, mass shootings will be easier to deter and prevent. A majority of the state’s police chiefs however opposed it.

Still pertaining to gun law – whilst Texas has loosened gun laws, the state of California has instead opted for the opposite.  In a new law also implemented this past Friday, it is now illegal for holders of concealed carry permits to bring handguns to school campuses.

Again commencing on Friday, a new law in Tennessee launched the nation’s first statewide online registry of animal abusers, listing anyone convicted under state mistreatment laws. Sponsors of the bill hope that this will encourage more humane conduct, and to keep animals out of the hands of known abusers.

Meanwhile in South Dakota, mail-order wine was the focus of a new state law. A new law now permits adults to order up to 12 cases a year from any properly licensed winery.

(A nice little note to end on, yes?)

Whilst typing up the above, I kept thinking about the role of law in our lives. As I mentioned previously in this post, law does shape our lives, in more ways than we perhaps realise.

Seeing that I have studied Jurisprudence and Legal Theory this semester, I now see the law in a different light than before, and understand how it can be viewed from various perspectives. I often find myself questioning the law and our legal system these days, too. I will find myself querying whether the law is merely politics in another form, for example, or I wonder whether there is/there should be a separability of morality from law. Above all else, I will ask myself what exactly is law – and goodness knows, this is a question I will continue to ask for years to come.

It is a fascinating, complex area of legal philosophy, and I feel that it can be seen through news stories such as the implementation of new legislation. For example, we can ask ourselves why we choose to obey the law, or why we have accepted the validity and legitimacy of the law. Is it due in part to a social contract, which we impliedly agree upon so that we accept the law to prevent uncertainty, instability and potential anarchy? Is it because we have agreed to cede power and authority to our elected Parliament and Executive, trusting that they will govern and represent us effectively and efficiency? And are judges truly impartial and neutral? Are they simply to read and give effect to the laws they interpret and adhere to precedence, not to consider the social impact of their decisions? See what I mean – I am now constantly questioning and seeing everything in a new light. It’s fascinating.

And on that note, I shall leave you, and scurry back to my coursework assignments. Should I not return, assume that I am lost in the world of Legal Positivism, and the Hart-Fuller debate. Kindly do send a rescue team, if possible.

(Should you be interested in reading more about new legislation coming into effect this year from around the world, why not read this article from The Guardian?)

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