Ignorantia Juris Neminem Escusat: The importance of Legal Awareness in the digital age of the 21st Century

Written by Zack Esmail – Second Year Law Student

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Ideally, the perfect society is one where every individual citizen is fully aware of the laws that are legislated by parliament. If that was the case, our law enforcement would be of less use than it is today.

We live in a time of great technological advances, through this we are also living in an age of information. With that in mind, know the law is only a few seconds and a few finger tips away. With that said, every member of our society should be fully aware of the law. However, reality checks and instead, the ideal society is only a figment of our imagination.

We live in an era where our personal development has become existentially intertwined with the development and presence of technology. It is imperative for one to understand, that with this shift of interactions comes also a shift of ethics. Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, however, in the situation of digital interactions, this must be coupled with the right to privacy, which two rights are ideally kept in balance.

This brings me to my next point. In a situation where one is not aware of his rights and obligations, how can one bein a positionto defend himself? The importance of legal awareness goes both ways, and it flows from both sides. It is not only important for one to understand our duties under our laws, but one should also be aware of his/her rights – if one is not aware of his own rights, can one know if the aforementioned rights were broken?

Delving and understanding the notion of legal awareness, we must first circle back to when should legal awareness start. From which age should legal education start, in order to create aware citizens? Take Vote 16 for example. At the age of 16, does one possess sufficient knowledge about the constitutional requirements of elected members of parliament? Or a general idea of the laws regarding elections in Malta? Or local council operations? The solution in this case would be to introduce youth to a more legally aware society. It is not enough to have law at our fingertips, thanks to the internet. Youths should be given a general overview of how to search for legislation, and the effects of certain laws in our everyday life.

The leaps in technology that we have experienced in this century has perhaps resulted in information overload, and as a result it takes skill to sift through the information and extract what is relevant. The knowledge – be it local laws, EU laws, and court judgments – is accessible at the click of a button, so now more than ever, the maxim “ignorance is no excuse” was never truer.When it comes to legal awareness, the modern-day challenge is not in the lack of information, but rather, in the lack of free-thinking skills that allows one to extract what is relevant and apply it in daily situations – skills that should be taught from an early age in order to prepare a future generation of truly legally aware individuals capable of defending their own rights and those of the voiceless and vulnerable.

ELSA Malta

ELSA Malta

ELSA Malta, established in 1986, forms part of the European Law Students’ Association (ELSA), a non-political, non-profit organisation bringing together law students and young lawyers. ELSA is currently present in 43 countries in Europe and has over 50,000 members worldwide, making it the largest law students’ organisation in the world.
ELSA Malta

ELSA Malta

ELSA Malta, established in 1986, forms part of the European Law Students’ Association (ELSA), a non-political, non-profit organisation bringing together law students and young lawyers. ELSA is currently present in 43 countries in Europe and has over 50,000 members worldwide, making it the largest law students’ organisation in the world.