Slashdot Does Law

There’s an interesting (and long) post on Slashdot that’s essentially a riff by a non-lawyer on vagueness and interpretation in law. What attracted me was the title, which is taken from the opening thought (by another Slashdot contributor): Next Year’s Laws, Now Out in Beta!, the thought being, essentially, that if laws were produced like software, there’d be a trial period where beta testers attempted to break it, confound it or expose ambiguities in it.

I seem to recall that it’s suggested from time to time that the legislature deliberately float draft bills through law schools to let the students hammer on them to find flaws.

At any rate, it’s useful occasionally to listen to a lay person’s proposals for introducing greater certainty into the legal system.


  1. there is a fundametal problem with that person’s view of the law, he thinks that while brain surgery is inherently complex because “the brain is naturally complex and not man-made”, whereas law is only complicated because we, in our misguided ways, make it so.

    Unfortunately what this ignores is the basic fact that laws are for the most part a few hundred words on a page that set out normative criteria for human interaction, the latter being as complex as the human brain and also not man-made in a sense that they are not made at all, they simply occur in a myriad of different combinations.

    The writer gives an example of what he thinks is a “vague” law, “misleading subject line” in the definition of spam. And yet, to create a normative standard that can encompass all the spam that we have now and hopefully all the spam that can be invented in the future, doesn’t this standard have to be subjective and thus inherently vague?

    Ultimately, there is a difference between badly drafted laws, those that are internally or externally inconsistent or lack sufficient explanatory and/or normative statements to appropriately limit interpretation of “vague” concepts and judicial discretion, and broad or intentionally subjective laws, those recognizing that in many if not most cases it is simply not possible to lock down a single meaning. Lest, of course, we WANT to open the door to all kinds of smart lawyers finding loopholes and arguing that the term “red colour” in a statute clearly wasn’t meant to apply to my advertising containing the words “red color”. After all, there is a whole letter difference!