The main function of the law is to ensure social cohesion, and to allow individuals to live together in peace. In theory, social cohesion will only exist when people recognise the authority of the law. Therefore, as society changes, so too must the law in order to maintain cohesion. There are a number of social, cultural, economic and political changes, which lead to the need for a change in the law.
As the values of society change, so too must the law. Otherwise, the law does not reflect the society it governs. For instance, the “Family Law Act 1975” was introduced partially to make divorce more accessible to married couples, in response to shifting community values towards divorce. This Act repealed the “Matrimonial Causes Act 1959”, which required proof that one or both parties were at fault for the dissolution of the relationship. These grounds for divorce were covered under section 28, and included reasons such as adultery, criminal activity, or failing to consummate the marriage.
Historically, communities have expected the law to regulate behaviour. Recently, these expectations have expanded. For instance, federal and state parliaments have introduced legislation to protect people, and ensure their safety, rather than regulate them. Compulsory bike helmets, seatbelts in cars, and restrictions on smoking in public places and using mobile phones while driving are all examples of the law assuming a more protective role.
People are arguably more aware of their rights and responsibilities now than in the past. Therefore, they are likely to question law and demand change. In order to accommodate a perceived increased awareness, governments have established new methods of dispute resolution and new avenues of legal assistance.
The law needs to change to meet demands made by the emergence of new technology. State governments need to regulate the use of these technologies to protect the rights of others. For instance, the development of digital cameras led to the “Upskirting Amendment Act (2007)”.
One of the impacts of globalisation, particularly post-WWII, is that nation-states have entered into significantly more international agreements (treaties). When Australia enters a new treaty, legislation must be passed to fulfill treaty terms.
Victorian Law Reform Commission
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