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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Law and authority in British Columbia, 1821-1871 Loo, Tina Merrill


The central concern of this dissertation is to understand the nature of political authority in pre-Confederation British Columbia through an examination of the colony's law and its courts. In British Columbia, as in other parts of the Anglo-North American world, the law was closely associated with maintaining and upholding political authority, by contributing to both its institutional and ethical foundations. The ability of states to do acts of a specified nature and to impose sanctions if impeded-- its authority -- rests on consent to the "rule of law." The rule of law encompasses the idea that everyone is subject to the same rules of conduct, sanctions and rewards regardless of his condition. Ultimately, the rule of law guarantees equality in an otherwise inequitable world. Commentators have pointed out that the rule of law is a fiction. Law is normative, and hence the authority it upholds is as well. In British Columbia the rule of law was firmly tied to the market, not the moral economy. British Columbia's law and courts bore the imprint of the colony's commercial economy and its geography. Colonial law and the courts provided a rule-bound arena in which to resolve disputes in a predictable, efficient and standardized manner that suited the demands of a market economy. Capitalism also profoundly shaped the ethical basis on which political authority in British Columbia rested. Commerce involved people in complex relationships. Trials to resolve commercial disputes reflected this complexity. They were lengthy affairs which generated masses of detailed and often technical information. If the demands of the commercial economy for predictable, efficient and standardized conflict resolution were to be met, the Intervention of experts, like lawyers, who could impose order on this mass of information was necessary. Political authority In British Columbia became less paternal and resident in the person of the Judge, and more textual and embedded in printed statutes, precedents and legal texts, as well as the experts who could interpret them.

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