Rules is rules is rules (Except when they are not)

A little bit of cultural comparison, for your reading delight, on this drizzly Saturday.


Lady Justice
(Photo credit: Scott*)


In the UK legal system there are old laws and new ones. The old laws were written back in the day, usually by nobles. Some of these laws make a lot of sense like “Don’t kill people, ok?” and these are kept on the books. Laws like “Unless it’s a Welshman on a Sunday,” make a lot less sense and so have been “taken off the books”. New laws are also enacted (this time by politicians, instead of nobles or royalty), to reflect the new ways people can damage and injure each other.

The politicians of the UK work double time to make sure laws are interpreted in the way they intended. They write them in thick legalese so that there are no loopholes, the letter and the spirit of the law match and so that judges have no grounds for saying “This law is TOTAL BULLSHIT!” in that way judges often do.

Having exact legal definitions is very important, even though it is a pain because you need to pay someone to interpret the law for you, because it means everyone gets the same treatment. If the law says “You must not xyz” then no one gets to xyz. No one.

The judicial process in the UK involves “testing” laws. If someone breaks an unfair law, it is possible for a judge to say “No, that law is bollocks, I’m taking that off the books”. Some people break laws just so they can test them in court for being unfair. Some people take the UK government to court for breaking other international laws (most usually the human rights acts that the UK has signed up to) and laws get changed or taken off the books completely.

Having a process like this is very important. It protects the people against things like fascism and incompetence. Sometimes rules are unfair and need to be changed.

We the people choose the rules we live under. Even though the process is arcane and not always that efficient or perfect.

This may be the same in your country. Who knows?

In Denmark, as far as I can make out, it does not work like this. Laws are written in much more of a fluid prose style. This is so that people can interpret them as they wish. The legal system assumes people can be trusted and so leaves the interpretation of the rules up to the people in charge. When laws are demonstrated to be unfair or wrong, they never change. What happens is that the department involved finds a get out of jail free card.

Imagine you are getting deported because one interpretation of the rules say you should be. You say you shouldn’t be because you have done nothing wrong, the interpretation is wrong. You get in the newspapers. The department looks at your case. If the gods are smiling on you, you will get to stay because the department “finds” a piece of paperwork they misplaced and now you can stay.

The rules do not change.

Except the “rules” change all the time. Ring the state for an interpretation of the rules, you will get a different answer from a different member of staff.

Some people will be given a stay of execution because the law allows for it, some people will be deported using the exact same laws.

It all depends on the person in charge and how they feel about your skin colour, gender, earning potential, ability to communicate in Danish.

I am always disappointed when Danes say something like “You have to follow the rules,” or “The law clearly states,” because this is not usually true. The caseworker or police officer of Denmark is granted enormous power to interpret the rules. The law rarely states anything clearly. The system trusts the caseworker or police officer to make the right call. And of course, not everyone deserves that trust. What you will find is that people can be persecuted and told “this is just the way things are” when they do not have to be that way. And you also find the converse, very lucky people who get a free pass with the authorities.

Usually, as caseworkers and police officers do not have a lot of time to get to know the person they are dealing with, these decisions are made on a snap judgement.

This leads to very unfair decisions. Sometimes people are told one thing one day and then another the next. Sometimes people in the exact same position are treated completely differently.

There seems to be little awareness of this. People in Denmark trust that the people in power always make the right calls. But this trust is not only misplaced, it is cowardly.

You do not have to accept unfair laws just because they are laws. Plenty of unfair laws are enacted all over the world and throughout history. It is your duty to fight, it is your duty to resist.

The rules are for benefit of the people, not people for the benefit of the rules.


6 thoughts on “Rules is rules is rules (Except when they are not)

  1. All this also goes a long way to explain why Denmark supposedly has so little, or no corruption at all.

    When and if you ask a dane, that is. And if you presume “corruption” to be the good old kind, where “favors” are black market commodities.

    Danish-style corruption goes deeper than that. It has become systemic, or even genetic. An instinctive social reflex. In a way that makes -or rather allows, the dane to be ignorant. Which comes convenient. Plausible deniability and all.

    This hits on a very important component in another law that eternally applies to the dane: the law of Jante.


  2. This system of deflection, of spontaneous interpretation of laws, to suit the person, the occasion, the situation, leaves a distinct taste of banana in one’s mouth. It’s not only utilised through the judicial system, but individuals use it when discussing. They can’t tolerate being called to task, it ruins the image of perfection, responsibility is never accepted, but blame is plastered on the person that either initiated, or queried something said/done, they cement their position by distorting a few norms (to everyone else at least) and using the elasticity of Danish definition, ‘cos that’s the way it’s done ‘ere, sådan! There’s something infantile about the whole construction.
    Good post A & J.


  3. Excellent post. Got tangled in the said laws myself a couple of years ago when Immigration department has two set of conflicting laws and in the end they just wanted to deport me because I “violated” the other law in order to obey one law. Absurd? Yes, but considering Immigration Office’s sole purpose is to weed us foreigners out of the society, it’s not a surprise.


  4. We stupid Danes are so happy that we have such smart neighbours in English-speaking countries nearby. We know nothing. Thanks.


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