Spaghetti Code, and the Law

A program is a set of instructions that tell a computer what to do. Today’s programs are often very interactive, they tell the computer what to display and what to do in response to various possible user actions.

I submit that the laws of a nation, province, state, or municipality, in fact the laws of any civilized organization, are also a set of instructions.

The laws state what, in various legal situations, should be done, what questions should be asked, and what actions should be taken. Actions taken range from acquittal, or suit dismissal, to various penalties and fines.

Spaghetti Code is what developers call the instructions in a program that, instead of being organized, weave in and out doing various things and branching around old logic that has, perhaps for business reasons, become obsolete or rarely needed.

I submit that much of our legal code, the law that governs us day-to-day and resolves our disputes and crimes, is spaghetti code.

New laws are added on top; exceptions are inserted into existing law; special cases supposedly ensure that some clauses in the law are never invoked for certain special instances.

Spaghetti Code, in software development, eventually becomes too expensive to maintain, too difficult to understand intellectually, requiring too large a mental effort to understand what it might actually make the computer do in any reasonable set of circumstances.

The Law, which is now spaghetti code, is supposedly not too expensive to maintain, but you do need an expensive lawyer for some more complicated circumstances. Since the legal system observes the users (lawyers, plaintiffs, witnesses) it is possible to direct the attention of that user/observer group to specific parts of the legal program and to obtain a specific result – a result that might not have been possible without this direction of attention.

We have no process for re-architecting our laws, at least none of which I am aware.

So, who pays the cost of this spaghetti-like system of laws? We do: when we lose a potential case because we don’t have an exceptional lawyer to help us; when a criminal goes free due to clever, legal maneuvers; when a company gets off with a fine when a real human being would go to jail. I could go on and on.

We need some pressure on our legislators (most of whom graduated from being lawyers, eh?) to simplify the law, and actually rewrite portions of it in clear, organized language.

The Law needs the equivalent of an Architect to clean it up.

Comments, anyone? If the law applies to ordinary people, should they not be able to read, understand, and predict what it will do?

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