Thomas More's Utopia - laws

They have but few laws, and such is their constitution that they need not many. They very much condemn other nations, whose laws, together with the commentaries on them, swell up to so many volumes; for they think it an unreasonable thing to oblige men to obey a body of laws that are both of such a bulk, and so dark as not to be read and understood by every one of the subjects.

They have no lawyers among them, for they consider them as a sort of people whose profession it is to disguise matters, and to wrest the laws; and therefore they think it is much better that every man should plead his own cause, and trust it to the judge, as in other places the client trusts it to a counsellor.

Every one of them is skilled in their law, for as it is a very short study, so the plainest meaning of which words are capable is always the sense of their laws. And they argue thus; all laws are promulgated for this end, that every man may know his duty; and therefore the plainest and most obvious sense of the words is that which ought to be put upon them.

Background

The Utopians believed in keeping the laws few and as clear and simple as possible. They preferred to use slavery as a form of community service order rather than the death penalty, which was applied only when all else had failed. Were Utopians made healthy and wise by their Utopian circumstances or was Utopia only possible with people of suitable consitution?

As far as the administration of the law was concerned the people pleaded their own cause in court before the judge. There were no lawyers for 'they consider them as a sort of people whose profession is to disguise matters'! The Utopians emphasised rewards (statues particularly) as strongly as punishments.

Representatives from neighbouring countries came to Utopia and invited the Utopian magistrates to come and help establish similar systems of law among themselves.

Image taken from: L'Utopie de Thomas Morus
Creator: Thomas More
Publisher: Pierre van der Aa
Date created: 1715
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: 232.b.20

Taken from: Sir Thomas More's Utopia
Author / Creator: Thomas More (translated by Gilbert Burnet)
Publisher: George Routledge & Sons
Date: 1885
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: 12204.gg.1/23