Ignorance of law is no excuse, but it is time the country elevated legal literacy

law and order
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Human civilisation, which was initiated thousands of years ago, is now governed by strict laws and policies. If we look to the past, it is clear how much human civilisation has evolved over the course of time and how law and order have become a significant part of our society.

Why would not it be? We as humans have experienced a lot. From famine to war to war to natural calamities, everything has paved the way for our society to be what it is today.

One could hardly imagine a society without law in today’s scenario. We have discussions and discourses about how important law is and how important everyone should know it and stick by it. However, the reality in Nepal is different.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse” is a legal principle where an individual is held accountable or expected to follow the law and stick by the law even if they are unaware of the legal provisions.

According to this principle, an individual gets punished due to his or her illegal actions even if they are unaware of that action being illegal. If we reflect back at history, the legal principle of ignorantia juris non excusat (ignorance of the law excuses not) or ignorantia legis neminem excusat (ignorance of law excuses no one) comes from ancient Rome. Since then, the principle has remained a big subject of debate and discussions governed by both rational and empirical lenses.

This legal principle holds advantages: Promotion of a fair and just legal system. Encouragement to individuals towards legal education. Promotion of an informed citizenry.

Why is the legal principle a myth in our society?

impeachment motion CJ cholendra rana vote Courts in Nepal supreme court nepal judge appointment

We live in a country with an inadequate establishment of developed systems where one can find many loopholes and fallacies. We do not hold enough awareness programmes and discourses that promote legal awareness amongst the general public. The legal resources are only accessible to people either engaged in the legal profession or anyone affiliated with political and legal institutions. But what about the general public?

The above-mentioned principle states everyone must know the law under any circumstances or they must face the penalties for the crimes they commit due to the lack of knowledge of the law. In reality, laws can be complex to understand and not everyone in society has the means and resources to access them.

This is why it is imperative that the government takes responsibility and provide information on various laws. Currently, the government does not do this. Therefore, penalising individuals based on this principle without granting them access to the laws and legal provisions will never guide us toward a just legal system. All this will do is bring unintentional crimes and unfair punishments.

Our system lacks the capability of generating legal awareness to its people and in cases such as enforcing this principle leads to harsh penalties for minor crimes committed unknowingly and this ultimately undermines the fairness and legitimacy of the legal system.  

We can observe a huge lack of legal courses and basic legal knowledge in our education system. Law is not included as a basic course in any of the other degrees other than the law itself. And this needs reformation.

The basic thing that a government could do is to conduct a survey of the level of legal awareness in people residing in Nepal, but our country does not even consist of a simple report of the population that is or is not aware of different laws. People are deprived of basic-level education facilities. Everything is centralised and people are a hill away from the basic information and legal resources. And with the government not interested to make people aware, those living in the shadows continue to be unaware of what they can and cannot do in today’s society.

In this deformed system, where can one find the rationality behind this principle?

Saying this, it would be wrong not to mention that, making individuals accountable for their actions is important and fair enough as already mentioned above. But in Nepal, the rationality behind this principle equals nothing.

Way forward

nepali law and order advocate protection law law university in Nepal
Photo for representation only

Legal principles and society should go hand in hand. Society and law cannot go in different directions. In order to build a sound and prosperous society, the laws and the society should cooperate with each other.

Lawmakers and judges should pay extra attention to the applicability of this principle in the Nepali context. The government should enact policies regarding how to take society and the principles side by side. Enhancement of public awareness and education about laws through accessible resources, pieces of training and online platforms should be promoted.

The decentralisation of the implementation of government-based plans for creating legal awareness is necessary. Lawmakers could also consider using simple language when drafting laws, making them more understandable to the general public.

Providing legal aid services to those who cannot afford them and ensuring everyone has access to legal advice and assistance when needed can be a more pragmatic solution. Proportional punishments should be encouraged and minor crimes due to ignorance should be treated differently.

Warnings and notifications through various means should be employed. Encouragement of more strict law programmes to make sure the awareness of legal education among individuals should be done at a rapid speed.

It is a subject, an issue which creates an obligation to every concerned people and authority to pay attention to and create solutions for the issue. Working on it will lead to a more fair and just legal system, which will maintain the trust of the people and will never let anything undermine its legitimacy.

React to this post

Luitel is a law student.

More From the Author


New Old Popular