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Law Notes Jurisprudence Notes

Legal Validity Notes

Updated Legal Validity Notes

Jurisprudence Notes


Approximately 417 pages

Jurisprudence notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambridge. These notes cover all the LLB core jurisprudence readings from Hart to Dworkin to Raz to Mill and Kelsen and much much more. These notes are perfect for anyone studying either law or the philosophy of law, no matter where they are based.

These notes are formed from readings of the primary texts (i.e. the original books) and academic papers, then condensed down as much as possible. Everything is split up by topic and y...

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Legal Validity

NB: ‘GD’ means ‘Great Debates’ by Sandy Steel and Nicholas McBride

Three main theories of legal validity:

  1. Hart: Rule of Recognition

  2. Dworkin: Theoretical disagreement / grounds of law

  3. Raz: Sources thesis

What are ‘social facts’?

‘Social fact’ in the context of legal validity is best understood negatively, excluding morality as a factor which determines whether or not a norm counts as a legal norm.

  • Viewing the term in this sense highlights why the legal validity debate is so significant – the fears of an unelected judiciary imposing their morality through decision-making.

1. Hart – The rule of recognition

Hart: A legal system consists of the union of primary and secondary rules.

  1. Primary rules – those regular laws which guide the conduct of citizens, e.g. OAPA.

  2. Secondary rules – control and determine the content of primary rules.

    • Three types: rule of recognition, rule of change, rule of adjudication.

For Hart, there are two minimum conditions necessary and sufficient for establishing the existence of a legal system:

  1. A habit of private obedience (primary rules are generally obeyed)

  2. A common standard of official behaviour (secondary rules are accepted as common public standards of official behaviour by officials).

    1. The officials of a system will adopt an “internal POV” such that the RoR is an official custom à the ordinary citizen’s contribution need be no more than passive compliance

    2. Mere agreement (as opposed to an official rule) as to the ultimate criteria for determining legal validity would be insufficient due to the rapid change which it would regularly undergo.

The RoR is a secondary rule which determines when something is a valid primary rule.

  1. There is no test of validity for the RoR because it is an ultimate rule. The content of the RoR is a matter of social fact – it is simply what the judges agree upon. The RoR is not ‘valid’, it simply exists as a social rule (see Social Rule Thesis).

    1. What the RoR is must depend on social criteria.

      1. Cannot be legal because the chain has to end somewhere.

      2. Cannot be moral because, Hart thinks, it is important to keep questions of validity and questions of merit separate; were the criteria moral, it would be impossible to have morally corrupt laws.

    2. Shapiro poses the chicken and the egg criticism: if you can’t have a RoR without legal officials, where did the legal officials come from?

      1. GD answer that as a primitive society gradually develops into a complex society, rules of adjudication will slowly develop to respond to breaches of primary rules. The officials and RoR will develop side by side.

  2. The RoR also states the supreme criterion: rules identified by reference to the supreme criterion will still be recognised as valid laws and take precedence over other rules (e.g. rules enacted by Parliament will take priority over CL rules).

Hart posits two difficulties faced by a coercion-based model of the law, which a model based on the union of primary and secondary rules model does not face:

  1. Classification – The RoR does not fall in to other of the readily recognised categories of law which make up a legal system (laws and conventions)

    1. There are two important ways in which the rule of recognition is viewed which help us in understanding its classification:

      1. Internal point of view - statement of validity made by those who use the rule of recognition in identifying the law

      2. External point of view – statement of fact that the rule exists in the actual practice of the system

  2. Existence – There is vagueness surrounding the assertion that a legal system ‘exists’

    1. Austin’s conception of law as imposing obligations or duties which should generally be obeyed is concerned only with the end product of a legal system: primary rules.

      1. Austin completely overlooks the other half of ‘official’ activity in law-making, where there cannot be said to be any ‘obligation’ but rather conformity to the procedural rules.

    2. A union of primary and secondary rules only constitutes a legal system when the above requirements of (a) private habitual obedience, and (b) an accepted official standard by officials, are met.

The soft / hard positivist debate

General positivist view: Legal rules can be identified by tests to do with the manner in which they were adopted or developed (i.e. ‘pedigree’ or social fact). Moral considerations are not necessary to a RoR.

  1. Soft/inclusive positivist (Hart): The RoR can make legal validity dependent upon conformity to certain moral principles, but it does not have to.

    1. A RoR could do this in two ways: ‘law bounded by morality’, where a rule with a particular pedigree is valid unless it violates a moral standard, or ‘law generated by morality’, where a rule is valid if it satisfies a test requiring one to evaluate the content of the rule.

      1. Dworkin criticised the soft positivist view, claiming that it was inconsistent with positivism. He gave two reasons for this:

        1. Uncertainty – Positivism aims to provide reliable standards of conduct which can be identified with certainty. If the RoR can incorporate moral principles, it ceases to provide certainty.

          1. Hart: Positivism does not aim to dispose of all uncertainty; some is desirable so judges can make an informed decision on unforeseeable cases.

        2. Shared Acceptance – Positivists contend that the RoR owes its existence to the shared acceptance by judges (see SRT below). But if the RoR contained moral criteria for validity, judges would disagree about what laws are valid due to their different moral values.

  2. Hard positivist (Raz): Raz adopts the sources thesis (see below for full theory). As a result, he claims that the existence and content of law can always be determined by reference to its social facts without recourse to moral argument.

    1. He says that the criteria for legal validity cannot include conformity to moral principles, for then law fails to be an authority. Law necessarily claims to be a legitimate authority. If the...

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