After several years of living in Warsaw I have yet to come into contact with Police. Thankfully, I abide by the law as much as possible. However, it has become apparent that one skill a true Pole has is the ability to evade punishment and smell out loopholes as well as any bloodhound. I have always found it intriguing as to the various methods a person can use as to avoid the plethora of documents, taxes and fines that are dished out to the average Pole. In the UK we are very strict on following all our guidelines, so much so as we even queue at bus stops to ensure maximum politeness. It has started to make me wonder why there is such a difference between our countries attitude to law. To begin with, we can see a marked difference between the way our judicial systems work. In the UK we use English common law while in Poland it is through the book of laws. They differ significantly but they both have their advantages and disadvantages. The English common law system is based totally on previous cases, therefore the judge is very important in determining the law. However, it also can cause unusual problems as there are a host of laws which have never been changed. For example, it is illegal to spit over the side of Westminister Bridge in London and is still punishable with transportation to Australia. Another is that you can kill a Welshman in Hereford cathedral from 20 yards with a crossbow. Of course, it would be ludicrous to actually uphold these laws as then thousands would try and get free holidays and who uses crossbows anymore?
You can now see the difficulties our UK system of law has. Not only are there strange laws that still exist but the power of deciding law is left in the hands of a few unelected judges. These people may be extremely educated fellows but the power they weald is staggering. Of course the government can override or change any law but they tend to let the judges take responsibility. The common stereotype of an British judge, wealthy, aristocratic, drunk and wearing a funny wig is just that, a stereotype. This systems allows common sense to prevail.
In comparison Polish law is rigid but concise. There are no strange laws that have become obselete. Instead every citizen knows exactly where they stand. They can rely on the book to justify there case and everything is set in stone as to whether they are guilty or not. The only problem is the size of the book. How many of you have actually read this codex? There seems to be so many laws and rules that its impossible sometimes to avoid breaking one of them. It is so confusing that if you talk to two different government departments you will hear completely different versions of the law. I bought a flat recently, only to find out that I’m not a 100% the owner, technically. All institutions be them private or public have long lists of rules and regulations, every one of them must be signed so it comes as no surprise that lawyers are paid such vast sums of money.
Another disadvantage of the Polish system is that its constantly being changed. Compared with the UK where laws are not changed for hundreds of years just because we don’t need too as the situation might only occur once. However, the Polish government are constantly changing the codex trying to perfect something which in theory could never be perfect. For this reason it becomes even more complicated as what might be the rule one year can suddenly be completely different the next year. You have to be very aware of all the modifications and ramifications. As a foreigner this is quite overwhelming as I can’t even ask friends as they all have different knowledge about the law. My technique has always been trial by fire and in Poland this is the best method. Eventually someone will tell you how it works, you just have to find the right person.
One thing both our countries have in common is that we both like to introduce laws that will punish the majority for the sake of the few. Also, we enjoy introducing laws that will act as a form of tax, for example speed cameras. I was told a fantastic story the other day of how a guy was driving along the Wisłastrada late at night rushing to get home. Going at ludicrously fast speeds he went through 4 different cameras amassing enough points on his licence to make him lose his license for the next two years. In Cambridge I heard about an 18 year old girl who had just passed her test and was caught dring 42 mph in a 30 zone by a speed camera. Drove around the roundabout and doing 41mph on the way back was caught by the speed camera pointing in the opposite direction. This was enough for her to be banned! We all understand the need for drivers to slow down but do we really need to be so heavily penalised?
In the UK drinking in public was the norm when I left five years ago. A Saturday in the park with a few beers and a football was the standard way of spending a Summer’s day. Now the police come by and confiscate the alcohol and why? Because a minority take it too far and so everyone is punished. In Poland you haven’t been able to drink in public for many years because some people can’t control themselves, however, due to their lack of control we are all victimised. The worst laws are those that take away our freedoms. In the UK the police can now arrest anybody and keep them imprisoned for two weeks without reason thanks to anti-terrorism laws. In Poland you have freedom of speech as long as it is not against the President or Prime Minister. It’s sad that in our days of democracy there have never been so many restrictions to our freedoms. Even democracy bypasses common sense.
On reflection it‘s very interesting how our systems of law work so differently but in modern Europe they are subjected to the same scrutiny. I also find it amusing how people in every country find ways to get around these laws. A Pole is very crafty at finding methods of navigating the law whilst English people are more confrontational. The methods of applying laws and maintaing them is also so different yet we live by many of the same sets of standards. It is a shame that as Europe comes closer together so does our idosyncratic rules. I think it is always the measure of a country that certain rules exist but nobody seems to know why. Poland wouldn’t be the same if we all knew what was going on, there wouldn’t be that sense of achievement when completing any beaureaucratic task. The average English person would be lost if they didn’t have a just cause in which to rise up against in fury. One thing we can all agree on is that laws are necessary but isn’t time that law became standardised I think a combination of our systems would be a very progressive solution.