Yeo Tsu Jin is currently studying Law at the London School of Economics. Tsu Jin completed his A Levels at Kolej Tuanku Jaafar and is graduating in 2022. This personal statement was part of his successful application to LSE, University of Bristol, University of Manchester, UCL and Cardiff University for Law.
“Is it okay to eat people? ” The beginning of my fascination with law started with that question when I listened to “The Right Thing To Do”, a lecture by Michael Sandel. It discussed the moral and legal ambiguity of murder and cannibalism. It took into account consent, necessity as well as the circumstances that may or may not justify these acts.
The legal precedent concerning valid defences for murder was decided in R v Dudley & Stephens, where, following a shipwreck, crew members who had been starving for a week murdered and cannibalised one of their own. This raised many questions to the court, the crucial one being – does necessity legally exonerate murder? The court ruled out necessity as a valid defence on the grounds that there was no imminent harm that necessitated the act. However, I emphasize the importance of understanding the nuance that it would have been difficult for the crew to determine the threshold at which their bodies would succumb to hunger. My belief is that the court should not have ruled out necessity, since the “imminent threat” was constantly looming over them. Consent is also a key element in this case. The victim at the time was in a stupor and unable to give consent, therefore the crew was compelled to make a decision on his behalf. However, I believe that inability to provide consent is not ample justification to make a choice on one’s behalf, as can be seen in rape cases involving people under influence of alcohol. I wonder if the cannibalised victim had consented to being murdered, would the crime then be morally or lawfully permissible? In extreme cases, the answer is no.
This is demonstrated in the case of R v Brown, where five men engaging in sadomasochistic activities were found guilty despite the presence of consent. According to Lord Templeman, the activities were “unpredictably dangerous and degrading to body and mind, developing with increasing barbarism”. However I believe the judgement is flawed. There are people who, under the influence of alcohol, put their bodies under more duress for a similarly cathartic effect. They increase the risk of harm to the public whilst under the influence, yet are not at risk of incarceration, nor are those who supply said instruments of harm. My view is that the court ruling seems to be more a consequence of homophobia rather than an attempt at justice, evident in how they failed to disprove the worth of the victim’s consent. However, I note two points. Firstly, that the court may have come to a different conclusion had the case been heard today, at a time where public policy is more accepting. Secondly, I appreciate the moral hazards of consent being an absolute defence, as there exist many scenarios where people are coerced into giving their consent, as is often the case when there is abuse or social pressure.
My extensive involvement in the Malaysian debating circuit requires me to explore novel, often obscure angles to argue a position which may initially have seemed indefensible; this ability to craft arguments from numerous perspectives has allowed me to articulate myself properly when discussing intellectually challenging matters. Furthermore, my interest in law was deepened during my internship at a law firm where I assisted with legal research for a case at the Court of Appeal in Malaysia. This has cultivated my ability to research as well as analyse case law on legal databases, and has given me a sharper eye for detail, allowing me to draw parallels to precedent disputes.
All of these cases raise an interesting question regarding the extent of autonomy which the law allows over ourselves. I question why governments should be able to dictate what I am allowed to do, barring that it does not harm anybody else. This issue and the greater role of law in society is something that I would be deeply interested to further explore at university.
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