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Boxing – An Illegal Sport?

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It was only a week ago since Boxer Nick Blackwell suffered a bleed on the brain following his British middleweight title defeat by Chris Eubank Jr in London. The referee stopped the fight in the 10th round on the advice of the doctor, who said Blackwell was unable to continue because of serious swelling over his left eye. Such a dangerous and deathly sport raises legal implications and points to the question – Is boxing unlawful or even a criminal offence?

For some time, the British Medical Association as well as many other medical interest groups have campaigned for stricter legal regulation regarding the sport of boxing. Although two bills in the House of Lords which attempted to outlaw boxing for reward were defeated in 1995, Parliament has never declared boxing illegal and no court has ever decided a case involving the legality of boxing. The sport has been scientifically proven to endanger health and perhaps the 51 deaths due to injuries sustained from boxing adds emphasis to this point.

The deliberate or reckless infliction of an injury normally has two legal consequences: the aggressor has committed a criminal offence and the victim can consequently sue for compensation. We say “normally” because the law has always allowed exceptions. An assault can be legal because of self-defence or consent, in the case of surgery, for example. Public policy can make an assault lawful or unlawful. For example, “reasonable” parental chastisement and male circumcision are lawful. However, female circumcision is a criminal offence, and parents whose chastisement is excessive is also an offence.

The relationship in law between assault and contact sports is a matter of consent and policy. Public policy, as declared in case law, is that “properly conducted games and sports are needed in the public interest.” A rugby tackle carried out on a player who has consented to be involved is neither a crime nor a tort. However, there are a multitude of limits to the sports violence which the law allows.

In R v Lloyd a player was convicted of assault because “what the appellant did had nothing to do with rugby football.” An appeal judge stated that while rugby is a physical game it is not a licence for thuggery. Similarly, in R v Marsh, a rugby player was convicted after an “off the ball” assault on an opponent. Thirdly, in a football case of McCord v Swansea City AFC Ltd, the court declared that if a player is injured as a result of play that goes beyond the rules, the club or the aggressor can be made to pay compensation. For example, this case states that the footballer, Marco Materazzi, had every right to compensation after Zinedine Zidane head butted him in the World Cup final, 2006.

Whilst boxing shares with other contact sports the fact that it has a set of rules, boxing is different in a significant way. Physical contact in rugby or soccer, however risky, is not intended to cause injury. The rules seek to minimise risks of injury. In contrast, boxers do not breach any rules when they try to cause injury. The British Boxing Board of Control made this quite clear in its submission to the Law Commission. “Nobody can take part who is not licensed, and all who wish to box are warned of the risks of the sport and are given thorough medical examination and tests.” Additionally, the mere fact that there is always an ambulance present at each promotion which is staffed by paramedics with instructions to go to a named hospital emphasises that severe injury is a real risk.

How have the courts dealt with this difference between a sport where injury is incidental and one where it is deliberate? The answer is that they have not really considered the point. Frustratingly, no cases have actually ever concerned boxing, which means that the judges have never ruled on the issue of boxing.

In Attorney General’s reference No 6 of 1980, two men agreed to a street fight. At first they were acquitted because they had consented to assault each other. However, the Court of Appeal ruled that despite consent, the fight was a crime if the intention was to inflict injury. Lord Lane went on to say, “Most fights will be unlawful regardless of consent.”

It is accepted as fact that boxing is legal. The justification, when attempted, has been on the grounds that properly organised fights are not intended or likely to cause injury. Analysis of law and science has been superficial or non-existent, for the straightforward reason that there has been no test case. However, it is certainly arguable that boxing is unlawful and indeed, a criminal offence. It was in 1994 that Lord Mustill in the case of R v Brown said, ‘ It is in my Judgement best to regard this (boxing)  as another special situation which for the time being stands outside the ordinary law of violence because society chooses to tolerate it’. The real question is how long society will choose to tolerate it!

Legal

Legal Reform: Social Norms and Technology

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In the same way that photoreceptors in your eye respond to light, law responds to the stimulus of social pressure and technological advances. Take smoking as a first example. Rising drastically during the First and Second World War, the number of adults smoking cigarettes by 1949 amounted to approximately 81% of the male population and 39% of the female population. In the mid-20th century, smoking was seen as a social norm, with many advertisements oblivious to the health detriments caused by smoking. Notable slogans claimed fabricated benefits: “for digestion’s sake”, “a feeling of well-being”, and “throat protection against cough irritation”.

It was not until a 1950 report published in the British Medical Journal that evidential research was found, linking smoking with the formation of lung cancer. This was the first of a chain of research that changed the way both doctors and the public viewed smoking, resulting in social pressure for legal reform, in which the government was forced to respond to. In 1965, a ban on television cigarette advertisement was implemented, progressing to a complete advertisement ban in 2005 and most significantly an end to smoking in public was enforced in July 2007. More recently, the debate over cannabis legislation is a hot topic for future debate, with 26 US states currently legalising marijuana in some form. As scientific research progresses in this field of study, perhaps society’s attitudes towards cannabis may change, prompting further legal reform.

New crimes were necessary as computing became more prominent towards the end of the 20th century. The Computer Misuse Act 1990 served as a response to the rise in cyber-crime, most significantly hacking. Further legislation brought in targeted identity fraud and harassment over the web, encompassing cyber-bullying although it has no specific mention. Moreover, the development of cars and their sudden surge in frequency led to more common traffic accidents. Subsequently, laws were implemented to make driving on the roads a safer experience, with drink driving, mobile phone usage, and speeding all becoming new additions to criminal law in the UK.

To conclude, law has successfully evolved in line with social norms and technological developments in order to protect society and respond to pressure from reformist groups. It is vital that the law regularly adapts to modernisation, to prevent a backwards legal system and to protected the welfare of the majority.

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Recent Case of Charlie Gard – Who Knows Best?

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doctors vs judges

The recent Charlie Gard case that has flooded international news is characteristic of the intricate, global controversy: who has the right over life?

Infant Charlie Gard was born with an extremely rare genetic defect known as MDDS, which irreversibly deteriorated his condition to severe brain damage, immobility, deafness and ventilation by artificial means alone. Established under The Children Act 1989, institutional authorities (hospitals, governments) were assigned with giving the final decision on whether a young patient could live, designed to safeguard parents from protecting their own needs rather than what was best for their child.

Whilst Charlie’s parents wanted their precious child to live, all courts of appellate jurisdiction, along with the doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital, at which Charlie was kept on the life support, thought it was in Charlie’s best interests to end his life rather than allow his quality of life to be irrevocably poor.

So, who should we trust to give the final say about a child’s well-being? Should families, who have given birth to the child, their possession, be given the legal responsibility to overrule the state in their decision? Of course, this brings moral implications, such that the parents would not want to say goodbye to their child and therefore not act in his/her’s best interests.

Let’s now bring in another scenario, whereby the patient is of adult age. Tony Bland sustained detrimental injuries from the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989, which left him in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) until his death in 1993. It was eventually ruled in the House of Lords that the Artificial Nutrition and Hydration (ANH), that was prolonging him living, should end to allow Bland to “die in dignity” (Court order). This case differs from the Charlie Gard case as both the parents and the doctors thought withdrawing ANH was in Tony’s best interests.

Despite differences, the Bland case elucidates the complexity involved in euthanasia cases in the UK. Was it morally right for the state to prevent Gard’s parents from allowing experimental treatment to be made in the hope of keeping their son alive, despite his physical and mental state? Was it morally right for the court to give consent to the withdrawal of ANH and allow Tony to die? How would the result differ if it was unsure how long he would be in a vegetative state for?

Let us assess one last scenario. Terminally ill man Noel Conway, aged 67, launched a legal challenge for his own right to die. He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, which has meant his ability to move, dress, eat and even breathe has irrevocably diminished. Noel condemned Section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961, which prohibited assisted suicide (voluntary euthanasia) under UK law, outlining his deteriorating quality of life and the prospect of “unimaginable suffering”. As he strongly remarks, “Current law means that I will have no control of how my life ends”.

We are once again asking ourselves where ultimate authority lies in determining the end of one’s life. This global complexity should never be looked on lightly and all cases of similar note should be looked at distinctly and intricately.

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After Taiwan, What’s Next For Asia?

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LGBT rights in Asia

T​aiwan has long been home to Asia’s most spirited LGBT communities, with the hashtag #TaiwanGayMarriageLegalization attracting over 11 million views on China’s Weibo. The country ​has recently joined the United States, Canada and 18 others to rule in favor towards ​constitutional protection of same-sex marriage. But the question of what it symbolises in Asia remains unresolved.

If the law functions to balance the need for stability with the demand for progress, Taiwan’s ​announcement from May acts as a positive testament. The decision favoring constitutional protection confirms growing momentum in the country, where child adoption by unmarried same-sex couples is becoming increasingly popular. Yet until the legislation was passed, only one individual can be recognised as a legal guardian. A condensed look reveals that legalising marriage is bound to cultural and political acceptance more deeply than economic concerns. It implies that the parliament has two years to amend laws regarding same-sex marriages. If not, couples will be permitted to register under the current framework. Both mothers or fathers of the adopted child could be entitled to equal welfare and property benefits.

Around the world, controversies surrounding alternative ideas from LGBT to the businesses of Uber and AirBnB have demonstrated the difficulty of balance. Taiwan’s ruling is undoubtedly a landmark for changing attitudes in Asia, but what does it signify for the rest of the hemisphere, where responses to minority cultural views remain conservative? Although attitudes to homosexuality were relatively liberal during the imperial times in mainland China, the ​Communist revolution in 1949 led to more cautious attitudes. Despite having it removed from the list of “mental disorders” in 2001, the stigma remains. Naturally, responses from China have been two-folded. Some are excited by the milestone, but others remain disheartened to the possibility of achieving legislative change. While many were still rejoicing shortly after the Taiwanese ruling, China’s most iconic lesbian socialising platform ‘Rela’ was shut down without explanation.

Likewise, although LGBT is not prohibited in the South Korean constitution, many remain closeted due to pressure from cultural traditions. But this is understandable, when some of the largest mobile corporations in the country have agreed to ​remove homosexual dating apps on the market, and a presidential candidate openly attacks gay soldiers for “weakening the country’s military.” Whether the rest of Asia could follow Taiwan’s footsteps as the social forerunner is still open to question, and it is certainly unjustified to generalise one of the largest and most diverse continents with a handful of examples. But one can be certain that ​LGBT continues to grow as an influential social dynamic in many Asian societies. ​Although t​he tug of war between traditional cultural views and changing public opinion will persist, ​Taiwan’s ruling could induce a chain effect in the long term.

When asking the youth “what do you dream of the world,” perhaps many would speak of tolerance. Such an abstract idea will undoubtedly carry a fluid definition, but obscurity is both its limitation and its beauty. The road to constitutional desegregation in the United states during in the 20th century was a difficult journey back and forth, and the same will go for LGBT in our time. But acceptance, before any legislative change is the first step that can go a long way. Regardless of whether one is in support of Taiwan’s ruling, it is an optimistic sign that ​societies are increasingly being warmed to the rights of gender and sexuality minorities through activism. It signifies not only acceptance of LGBT, but acceptance of cultural differences and their rights to equality before the law.

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