The Scientific Council (publication of transcripts) Bill

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Aliasi Stonebender
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Post by Aliasi Stonebender »

Your arguments have validity, Gwyn. On the other hand, I'd point out the SC has always been seen as a problematic branch of government; I didn't trust it when it was Ulrika (and, effectively, [i:2zb8nc73]no one else[/i:2zb8nc73]), I barely trust it now, and only because I know the individuals on it.

Which is not to say that I believe the SC's original purpose is unworthy; I agree with you on that point. I've never been happy with the "meritocracy that can only be controlled through impeachment" aspects... but I've never really been able to think of a [i:2zb8nc73]better[/i:2zb8nc73] idea that didn't involve gutting the branch, save requiring some minimum number of active individuals (i.e., not on the RA or other government post) at all times.

I'd be supportive (for what it's worth) of an amendment restoring the SC to its previous status, if we can figure out some way other than "well, they're good people!" to prevent us from having an "evil SC problem" to mirror the "evil EO problem".

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Post by Ashcroft Burnham »

[quote="Aliasi Stonebender":2g8qhp7i]I'd be supportive (for what it's worth) of an amendment restoring the SC to its previous status, if we can figure out some way other than "well, they're good people!" to prevent us from having an "evil SC problem" to mirror the "evil EO problem".[/quote:2g8qhp7i]

The problem is not just that the members of the Scientific Council might be evil: even well-intentioned but misguided people with such vast powers as the Scientific Council of old seemed to have can be very damaging to democracy.

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Post by Gwyneth Llewelyn »

In any case, the debate has merit. In my mind, the first question to be asked is "What is the purpose of the Scientific Council? What role does it fulfill in the CDS?"

This what people should be thinking of [i:1q5u6drs]first[/i:1q5u6drs]. I would now argue, based on some of the forums threads I read, that different citizens give completely different answers. That is not a good sign.

It [i:1q5u6drs]might[/i:1q5u6drs] be a good sign if we can conclude that the different answers come from a single reason — the citizens don't need that the CDS needs a special branch to defend and uphold their ideals. I might argue that this would mean a certain "maturity" — accepting, that at this point, the CDS does not need at all a branch of government with that esoteric function.

If that's the case, one should consider what roles the Scientific Council does, indeed, fulfill. It can be argued that it should validate legislation, like a second chamber (on a two-year old discussion that I just got a transcript of, the SC was explained as being simply the "House of Lords"). It can be argued that it provides a simple constitutional validation of the laws. It can be argued that it could be used for placing checks on the Judiciary. Or the other branches. And it can be used for administrative tasks not suited to any other branch.

In any of the above cases, these are ancillary functions to what the SC is [i:1q5u6drs]supposed[/i:1q5u6drs] to have been created for. Apparently, however, these have grown in importance, while the SC's original purpose has faded (again, perhaps due to the maturity of our democracy).

If this is something felt by the large majority of the citizens, it's then clear that the SC should not exist any more (as the branch created for providing the upholding of ideals), but a different structure, more adapted for the [i:1q5u6drs]current[/i:1q5u6drs] (or eventually future) needs of the CDS, should replace it. It should then have a different composition, different procedures, but more important, a different [i:1q5u6drs]purpose[/i:1q5u6drs]. What it should [i:1q5u6drs]not[/i:1q5u6drs] be is a structure requiring a function — which apparently is its status right now. Government branches should exist only for the express purpose of fulfilling a specific function, and extinguish themselves when that function is not needed any more.

So, I've proposed to launch a debate (since from an ethical point of view I should not be proposing new bills to be introduced) around this point. The first one should take place later today, at 4 PM, at the Biergarten, where I hope that some citizens might come there as well and talk about what they feel the SC should be. I hope to encourage similar discussions in the forums as well. Hopefully, not before long, it becomes clear in the mind of our legislators what functions are needed for this branch to work, and a guideline can be established for its procedures.

After all, the same happened with the Guild, when it was deemed to be void of any useful function in the CDS...

[i:1q5u6drs]Edit: discussion event pushed to 4 PM to prevent overlap[/i:1q5u6drs]

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Post by Aliasi Stonebender »

[quote="Ashcroft Burnham":14e8i42s]
The problem is not just that the members of the Scientific Council might be evil: even well-intentioned but misguided people with such vast powers as the Scientific Council of old seemed to have can be very damaging to democracy.[/quote:14e8i42s]

That was the [i:14e8i42s]point[/i:14e8i42s]. Democracy is not perfect. A problem with democracy is what happens when irresponsible voters vote themselves bread and circuses without looking at the cost; the SC ideally acted as the cool voice of reason... but without, in turn, giving the SC so much power that they would effectively 'run' the show.

The problem is... this has only been somewhat successful; it's a system prone to abuse. The Judiciary Act may have weakened the SC, but I don't think weakening the SC was the answer. (Although I'd debate exactly how much weaker the SC is; the primary difference, it seems to me, is now the SC [i:14e8i42s]must[/i:14e8i42s] base their opinions on existing public documents as opposed to the former ill-defined 'founding philosopies'. This prevents certain "I don't like this and it just won't pass" decisions, and that seems alright by me. I, as Chancellor, may do so but face both an override vote and a removal vote - which is much easier than an impeachment - as obstacles. As such, should I exercise my veto, I'll make sure to have a VERY good reason.

That said, I'll restate that I don't wish to see the SC wither and be chopped off; I think it is a valuable role. But I would prefer the emphasis be on "advisors with teeth", as opposed to the often-used "Supreme Court" analogy (which I'm guilty of using myself) or "the sekrit Illuminati that actually tell us all how to do things" analogy (which I sometimes think was the original conception in some minds).

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Post by Ashcroft Burnham »

[quote="Aliasi Stonebender":22snpdwt]That was the [i:22snpdwt]point[/i:22snpdwt]. Democracy is not perfect. A problem with democracy is what happens when irresponsible voters vote themselves bread and circuses without looking at the cost; the SC ideally acted as the cool voice of reason... but without, in turn, giving the SC so much power that they would effectively 'run' the show.[/quote:22snpdwt]

My argument is that the right thing to temper the excesses of democracy is the rule of law, not the virtually unbounded discretion of a council of four, however well-meaning that those four may be.

[quote:22snpdwt]The problem is... this has only been somewhat successful; it's a system prone to abuse. The Judiciary Act may have weakened the SC, but I don't think weakening the SC was the answer. (Although I'd debate exactly how much weaker the SC is; the primary difference, it seems to me, is now the SC [i:22snpdwt]must[/i:22snpdwt] base their opinions on existing public documents as opposed to the former ill-defined 'founding philosopies'. This prevents certain "I don't like this and it just won't pass" decisions, and that seems alright by me. [/quote:22snpdwt]

Gwyneth said that the Scientific Council is weaker, but, as you wrote, I do not think that it is to any real extent. Although it no longer has the power to userp the rule of law by substituting the views of its members for the operation of established rules, removing from an institution a power that is highly problematic, whilst leaving it with lots of powers that are not problematic, and highly important, is not weakening an institution, but strengthening it, since what would otherwise be a strong reason for its abolition and/or public mistrust is taken away.

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Post by Ashcroft Burnham »

Unlike Gwyneth, I do not see the way in which the Judiciary Act changed the powers of the Scientific Council as revolutionary, but rather evolutionary. As Aliasi pointed out, the function of the Scientific Council, at the most abstract level, has always been to be a check on the excesses of democracy. The tendency before the Judiciary Act was to use the individual ideological beliefs of its members to do that. Now, we use the rule of law. The Scientific Council's funciton is to uhold the rule of constitutional law.

But it is not a binary change. Even before the Judiciary Act, the Scientific Council had all of the functions that I describe above, the quasi-legislative, the judicial, the administrative. It always was charged, according to the constitution, with upholding the constitution, the constitution being a set of rules reduced to writing. The Council always did serve the function of preventing various parts of government from disobeying the rules of the constitution.

The difference is now that the rule of law is recognised, rightly, as the supreme check on the excesses of majoritarianism. Thus, the non-rule-of-law functions of the Scientific Council fall away, but at the same time, the rule-of-law-related functions are enhanced. So, it is not the case that the Council moves from doing one thing to doing radically another: it moves from serving one ultimate end by a combination of individual discreation and the rule of law to serving that same ultimate end with just the rule of law, but being far more important in its rule of law functions than before.

The change, therefore, does not need a radical re-casting of the Council, nor a renaming of it, nor does it weaken the institutional importance or social standing of the Council: indeed, it enhances at least the social standing, if not the institutional importance, too. There was a reason that the Judiciary Act did not abolish or re-cast the Scientific Council, but simply require it to interpret the constitution in a way consistent with the text: that was because the Scientific Council, as presently constituted, with its present powers of legislative veto, constitutional court, and neutral administration, is an important bastion of the rule of constitutional law and should be maintained.

However, as written above, with such an important function comes great responsibility, and the need to have proper procedural rules to discharge that great responsibility. Failing to have such rules will weaken the Scientific Council far more than will amending the constiution requiring it to obey and uphold the rule of law as the ultimate check on the excesses of popular majoritarianism.

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Post by Gwyneth Llewelyn »

I would not be so certain about the usefulness of the Scientific Council any more, Aliasi. There was a very good reason for the SC to make pronouncements not on a literal interpretation of the Constitution — and a debate, at the time, about how to deal with that.

There is a good example to explain the difference (similar examples were given for weeks, if I remember correctly, and I can't recall them). Suppose that the RA approves an Act to define that the notion of harassment, in a virtual world, cannot be applied and is void of significance, thus must not be deemed a criminal act under the CDS. This Act would now argue that, since harassment is a RL concept with precise RL formulations and effects, it is already covered by the Linden Lab Community Standards, and thus citizens in the CDS should not be burdening the judiciary with it.

Constitutionally, harassment is not defined, so the SC cannot pronounce that Act as unconstitutional — since an Act by the RA has now provided with a clarification of what is meant by "harassment" and how to deal with it (or rather — [i:sf8usgnu]not[/i:sf8usgnu] deal with it), thus [i:sf8usgnu]adding[/i:sf8usgnu] to the Constitution, not changing it.

The SC would have to fall back to the UNDHR. The word "harassment" is not even mentioned there. It could be interpreted as being "invasion of personal privacy" (article 12) or "supression of well-being" (article 25) or even "violation of duties to the community" (article 29 a) ). But this is a really very vague and broad interpretation of what "protection from harassment", in the context of the UNDHR, actually means. The UNDHR assumes (correctly) that things like [i:sf8usgnu]what[/i:sf8usgnu] harassment means will be defined on national legislation, and established with a precise meaning and definition, and probably with a reference to the appropriate articles ("When the term is used in a legal sense it refers to behaviours that are found threatening or disturbing, and beyond those that are sanctioned by society", says the [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harassment:sf8usgnu]Wikipedia[/url:sf8usgnu]).

The SC might then fall back to the LL ToS/CS: "Given the myriad capabilities of Second Life, harassment can take many forms. Communicating or behaving in a manner which is offensively coarse, intimidating or threatening, constitutes unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, or is otherwise likely to cause annoyance or alarm is Harassment."

However, using this very forced example, one could always argue that the RA, through this Act, is not [i:sf8usgnu]removing[/i:sf8usgnu] a right that the citizen already has under the LL ToS. It is only establishing the [i:sf8usgnu]depenalisation[/i:sf8usgnu] of harassment in the CDS. A good orator would now argue that there is no need to duplicate LL's functions, but that the RA should only legislate in the case the LL ToS/CS omits crucial information (for example, how to deal with business transactions) and has no mechanisms to deal with certain offenses. Harassment is covered by both the LL ToS/CS and RL law.

Using the current definition imposed by the Judiciary Act, the SC would not be able to do anything. Strictly reading the Constitution, the RA is not approving an unconstitutional act. It is [i:sf8usgnu]not[/i:sf8usgnu] saying that harassment is allowed in the CDS; it's just saying that, henceforth, harassment will be dealt at a "higher court", ie. at the LL level or in RL courts, but never at the CDS level. This does not violate anything in our founding documents. So, we would effectively live within a virtual nation where, for a citizen to get legal protection from harassment, they would need to get it from outside the jurisdiction. Notice that no fundamental rights have been removed by this act; and a victim of alleged harassment can still appeal to LL for justice.

The point here is that a [i:sf8usgnu]literal[/i:sf8usgnu] interpretation of the founding documents allows indeed the RA to pass a similar case. One has to "hope" that the RA members have enough common sense [i:sf8usgnu]not[/i:sf8usgnu] to pass a similar act (thus, by default, currently, any victim of harassment is able to address the Judiciary, even if the Judiciary, at this stage, [i:sf8usgnu]might[/i:sf8usgnu] simply forward the case to LL — but that's a completely different story!).

The purpose of the Philosophical Branch (a much better description of the way the SC should work) was thus to prevent these clear loopholes. Before the Judiciary Act, this "unpenalisation of harassment act" would simply be vetoed on the basis of [i:sf8usgnu]unethical[/i:sf8usgnu] and [i:sf8usgnu]irresponsible[/i:sf8usgnu] behaviour — a society that refuses to establish its own rules of behaviour, specially when people are hurt and demand justice, is unacceptable, from an ethical and moral point of view. And this would be the case where the former SC would most certainly intervene, and forbid the RA to classify a deplorable action as "not worthy of attention by our Judiciary" just because they have passed the responsibility of dealing with it outside the jurisdiction. (Probably, such behaviour would even be deemed impeachable on [i:sf8usgnu]moral[/i:sf8usgnu] grounds under the former model).

The leeway given to the former Philosophical Branch in deciding complex social issues based on abstract, vague, and emotional concepts like "democracy", "freedom", "ethics", "morals", "common sense", "righteousness", "community values" and other similar, subjective things was deemed to be [i:sf8usgnu]important[/i:sf8usgnu] for a working community. In effect, one could, obviously, under the current model, sue the RA for not upholding a proper moral stance. However, this would then put the burden of interpreting and applying the law into the hands of the Judiciary — ie., if you don't like the laws because they are immoral, you'll have to sue the RA and expect the Judge to accept such a case — which, again, would need to be tried [i:sf8usgnu]not[/i:sf8usgnu] according to literal interpretations of the law (we have no law to define that the RA can only pass morally acceptable laws), but [i:sf8usgnu]subjective and personal values[/i:sf8usgnu].

Messy. The former system was much easier and clearer. The SC had the right to veto and impeach based on much more than mere letters written on paper. And, in return, the RA has an even stronger impeachment procedure — it could simply impeach any SC member [i:sf8usgnu]whatever the reason[/i:sf8usgnu]. This would mean that, in the above case, the SC could prevent an "immoral law" to be passed, but if it abused [i:sf8usgnu]that[/i:sf8usgnu] power (ie. "all laws from now on are deemed to be immoral, and pre-vetoed on the grounds that the RA members are all a bunch of morons"), the RA was free to impeach all SC members without even giving a cause for it.

I'm not saying that it was a [i:sf8usgnu]better[/i:sf8usgnu] method. I'm just saying that if this method is [i:sf8usgnu]removed[/i:sf8usgnu] — because it relied on subjective approaches to interpretation of laws, when in many cases only a subjective approach lead to fairness and moral integrity — a [i:sf8usgnu]new[/i:sf8usgnu] method will have to be devised to replace it.

I can only assume that it will be the [i:sf8usgnu]Judges[/i:sf8usgnu] that will have a leeway in stepping outside the literal interpretation of laws to decide ambiguous cases . If that's the case, it's a simple transfer of powers, from the SC to the Judges of the Common Jurisdiction. If it's not, something has been lost in the process. Was it something important? That's up to the citizens to decide.

One can always argue, "oh, but that is such an extreme case, we don't really need to worry about it now — the possibilities of it happening are so remote, that discussing them [i:sf8usgnu]now[/i:sf8usgnu] is mostly pointless". I do agree that the possibilities are so remote as to be virtually nil. However, the whole purpose of the former Philosophical Branch [i:sf8usgnu]was exactly to deal with the extreme cases[/i:sf8usgnu], the one-in-a-million cases that pop up once in a while and are deemed impossible to resolve under the existing system. That was the whole point of the existence of the SC: not to interfere in the society on a daily base, but to be called upon during extreme emergencies and exceptional cases. And, of course, if it started to call everything an emergency and abuse these extraordinary powers — it would be simply impeached, and new, more reasonable members appointed to office.

In essence, what does this mean? The old model assumed that "emergencies" would be rare, and thus the SC would, over time, have less and less "influence". On the first year of the CDS, there was indeed a lot more active participation of the SC — perhaps for the wrong reasons, but also because "almost everything seemed to be an emergency" (one might argue that it really wasn't). On the second year, however, we're more mature. It's hardly likely that the RA will pass Acts that are unconstitutional — they consider them very carefully, discuss them in-world and on forums, legislation is prepared with meticulousness, sometimes to a level of obsessiveness. This is [i:sf8usgnu]good[/i:sf8usgnu]. The RA also understands the whole principles and ideals behind the Constitution — it perfectly knows how to change it while keeping balances and checks. It is a body with high morals, a strong commitment to the community, and a high sense of duty. An example? This term, contradicting my own predictions, [i:sf8usgnu]almost all RA sessions had a quorum[/i:sf8usgnu], and the RA met at least as often as during previous sessions. If there is any proof that we're seriously entering a mature stage of our democracy, I'll point this out as the best possible example.

So, my above "extreme example" is also extremely unlikely, and as time goes by, and the Constitution keeps being changed by the very same body of people that have to work under its bounds, the RA will be less and less likely to commit any gross violation of the Constitution, deliberately or not. Thus, the issue of a constitutional violation will become less and less important over time — as it should be. In RL politics, thousands of laws get approved per day, and only a tiny handful might ever been deemed unconstitutional — and this slowly becomes the norm in the CDS as well. There will be a SC to validate the constitutionality — but, in almost all cases, this validation will be done [i:sf8usgnu]a priori[/i:sf8usgnu] (very likely in a "constitutional committee" in the near future). It's also very unlikely that any case be brought to the Court of the Scientific Council on constitutional basis — with our tiny population, most of these cases will simply never exist. Perhaps a bit at first, but after 1 or 2 cases it will be quite clear that these exceptions will be minimal in number.

So, I still argue that the current role of the SC as it stands is negligible and is better suited for a [i:sf8usgnu]different[/i:sf8usgnu] branch — the "High Court" or "Constitutional Court" or something like that. It will only have to worry about a legal document on a Wiki page and not much else. The [i:sf8usgnu]former[/i:sf8usgnu] role of "upholders and defenders of the ideals of our society" — a Philosophic Branch, in effect — seems not to make sense any more.

Of course, there is also a personal side issue to all of the above. I have neither skills, talents, or willingness to discuss trivial details in the literal correctness ("correct" in the sense of "constitutional") of a written law, so I would not qualify for the "High Court", and have absolutely no interest nor time to participate in such a branch. My qualifications for the Philosophic Branch were based on a completely different set of skills, so there is no place for me in the "High Court".

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Post by Gwyneth Llewelyn »

Ashcroft summarises the whole aspect quite well in one sentence: "The Scientific Council's function is to uphold the rule of constitutional law."

I would argue that the [i:yo74v4nm]new[/i:yo74v4nm] function of whatever this branch is going to be called in the future is, indeed, to uphold the rule of constitutional law, and that the Constitution should thus be amended to represent the new functions, instead of relying upon an interpretation of what those functions are :)

Put into other words — the [i:yo74v4nm]old[/i:yo74v4nm] function of the SC was [i:yo74v4nm]far wider[/i:yo74v4nm] than upholding the rule of constitutional law (while certainly [i:yo74v4nm]also[/i:yo74v4nm] embodying that as [i:yo74v4nm]one[/i:yo74v4nm] of its functions), and the mechanisms established for that to be possible were quite different — and incompatible with its new functions as now defined (well, not approved yet, but I believe that to be a question of time — I'm just anticipating an amendment for clarification :) ).

Thus, I have to side with Ashcroft and call upon the RA members (or any one willing to do this job) to establish (beyond what already is in the amendments created by the Judiciary Act) a clear definition of what the new purpose of the SC is, [b:yo74v4nm]change the name of the Philosophical Branch[/b:yo74v4nm] (to make clear that there is a difference from its previous role), and establish its procedures properly, so that we can move ahead with this :)

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Post by Ashcroft Burnham »

The "Depenalisatation of Harassment Act" example that you give is an example of a bad law, certainly, but not an unconstitutional one. The function of an unelected body such as the Scientific Council should never be simply to say what laws are merely [i:225ec0j4]bad[/i:225ec0j4]: that userps the function of the legislature. There is no reason to believe that the members of the Scientific Council will be any [i:225ec0j4]better[/i:225ec0j4] at telling what laws are bad or good in general than the members of the Representative Assembly. Indeed, given the democratic legitimacy of the Representative Assembly, there is at least some reason to suppose the opposite.

The idea of the Council as the body that upholds the rule of constitutional law is that there is a set of written rules that sets out what sorts of laws that the legislature is and is not allowed to pass. The process of deciding what is in that written constitution is the process of deciding what things that the Scientific Council should be able to veto or not. Those things best left to the discretion of the elected representatives (i.e., most things) should be things in respect of which the Council simply has no power to intervene.

Indeed, if the Council could veto an act merely because it thought that it was a bad idea in general, members of the Scientific Council could use their unelected positions to foist a political agenda upon the legislature not backed by a democratic mandate. That would be an illegitimate exercise of power.

Incidentally, people cannot sue legislators for passing bad laws: that would be somewhat abusrd, and is precluded bythe constitutional requirement that the judiciary defer to primary legislation. The correct remedy if the legislature passes bad laws is to vote for a differently composed legislature at the next election. In a democratic soceity, that is the correct means of dealing with laws that are merely bad, but not unconstitutional.

I must confess, though, I am bewildered, Gwyneth, why you should say that the current role of the Scientific Council is "negligible", given all that I have outlined above about the three important functions all of which are vital to upholding the rule of constiutional law. That is most certainly not negligible.

Also, you write that the former role of the Scientific Council was as "[i:225ec0j4]upholders and defenders of the ideals of our society[/i:225ec0j4]". That is somewhat at odds, is it not, with what the constitution itself says, which is that the Council is there to "interpret and enforce the [b:225ec0j4]constitution[/b:225ec0j4]" (emphasis mine). Give that the constitution is, by definition, a set of written rules, is it not so that the SC as bastion of the rule of constitutional law is what the constitution has always required the SC to be?

Finally, as to you not having the skills or talents needed to engage in an organisation whose function it is to uphold law, I am not sure that I agree. You are evidently very intelligent. A little legal education can go a long way. I am always willing to provide such education to those who discharge legal functions in our community.

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Post by Ashcroft Burnham »

[quote="Aliasi Stonebender":13m3ag77]...I would prefer the emphasis be on "advisors with teeth", as opposed to the often-used "Supreme Court" analogy (which I'm guilty of using myself) or "the sekrit Illuminati that actually tell us all how to do things" analogy (which I sometimes think was the original conception in some minds).[/quote:13m3ag77]

Two additional points: firstly, calling the Scientific Council the "supreme court" is confusing because it sits as a court when considering whether to impeach anybody or allow special appeals from Courts of Common Jurisdiction, but not otherwise; it has, as I have written above, non-judicial, as well as judicial functions. The "Court of Scientific Council" is a subset of the Scienitifc Council's function.

Secondly, you make a good point when you write that you suspect that the original conception of the Scientific Council was to be a secret illuminati that runs things from behind the scenes. I had a similar thought when I read one of Desmond Shang's posts in our debate about democracy in SecondLife on the SL Homepage forums. Desmond, as no doubt you know, has a council of advisors, much like the royal Privy Council, who advise him on policy within Caledon. He still has the ultimate say: the council has no formal powers. He had written there that he, as the estate owner, as the person who had put a great deal of his personal money into the project buying a whole series of islands worth thousands of US dollars each, he would never dream of giving the residents the right to decide how to run things, in case they ruined his investment for him, or, as he put it, "let the children vote themselves an ice-cream dinner".

Any founder who pays for and creates from scratch a community such as Neualtenburg as was would be naturally inclined to reserve to her or himself the power to stop her or his creation from being changed so that it no longer matched its creator's original intention and purpose. Caledon has never pretended to be a democracy, so the process there was always open. Neualtenburg, however, hailed itself as SecondLife's only democracy. But the people who founded it gave themselves prominent positions on the unelected bodies of government, Dean of the Scientific Council and Guildmeister respectively. The Guildmeister (Kendra) was the estate owner, and had a veto over financial affairs, the idea being, no dobut, to prevent the elected body from saying "we shall have all this for free, please", and making Kendra pay for everybody's houses herself. The Dean of the Scientific Council (Ulrika) had the power to veto any act of the elected legislature on the ground that it did not fit with the "founding philosophy" (i.e., to prevent the legislature moving away from the ideal of the socialist collective that Ulrika had always wanted to create). I have little doubt that the original idea of the Scientific Council, therefore, was to ensure that the creation was always firmly in the control of the creator, as any creator strongly tends to desire (and no doubt we all know of Ulrika's artistic temprement). The Representative Assembly was only ever supposed to be a slightly more formal and very slightly more powerful version of Desmond's council of advisors.

However, all that changed back in about February or March of this year (if I recall correctly from the forums) when two things happened: (1) Kendra decided to join the Representative Assembly, and thus had to resign as Guildmeister, being replaced by Sudane; and (2) Ulrika decided that she was spending too much time and money in SecondLife, and resigned as Dean of the Scientific Council, leaving Gwyneth to take charge of that role.

In new hands, the institutions were freed from the original incentive to protect the original intentions of the creator, and allowed what was then Neualtenburg to develop from a faux democracy into the real democracy that it is to-day. Sudane wisely managed the finances, whilst loyally deferring to the will of the elected representatives. Gywneth adopted the Scientific Council's traditional lassiez-faire approach, and rarely intervened against the actions of the elected legislature. The legislature proved that an elected government does not "vote itself an ice-cream dinner", and can, more or less, manage a sim (and now two sims) just as well as any autocratic estate owner.

Meanwhile, the original founders, somewhat dismayed by the direction in which the newly liberalised democracy had taken, famously departed and set up their own community, Port Neualtenburg, which is very pretty (and increasingly successful - it has recenlty doubled in size), but is not a democracy, but instead a combination of a feudal and socialist state, with a heirachical Guild, of which Kendra is the head, serving as legislature and executive in a similar way to the feudal courts of medieval European kings, which is somewhat fitting, given the medieval Alsacian setting of Port Neualtenburg. That model makes very sure that the original, socialist collective community of artists intentions of the creators are solidly preserved. Kendra runs the show as Guildmeister, although with the assistance of loyal and talented followers in the Guild; I understand that Port Neualtenburg has about 35 citizens (or should that be "subjects"?) now. Ulrika, meanwhile, is nowhere to be seen: last time that I went to Port Neualtenburg, she had even deleted her shop there, possibly in fear that her creation would be copied (and therefore out of her control) following the CopyBot scare.

Meanwhile, back in Neufreistadt, as it was then called, I joined in July this year with the intention of bringing the rule of law to a democratic community. When drafting the Judiciary Act, I saw the widely drafted powers of the Scientific Council, and realised that they could be used to do exactly what Aliasi wrote above: to make the Council (whether its present members had any intention of doing so or not) into a secret illuminati that actually runs things. So, I removed it, and required the Council, just like everything else, to obey the rule of law. The legislature passed the Act, and we are now in a new and better position than we could probably ever have reached except by the chance of our history that was outlined above: we are a true virutal democracy, and one in which the rule of law prevails. Whatever Gywneth might think, the Scientific Council, as presently constituted, has an important role in maintaining that rule of law, but can only do so effectively if it establishes clear procedures, and always acts ethically (which is not the same as always acting with good intentions).

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Post by Gwyneth Llewelyn »

In my eagerness to explain why the current Scientific Council is even more worthless than I thought, I forgot one important issue: the Chancellor can, for all effects, veto legislative acts if she deems them to be "bad laws" (Amendment 11, Article 6).

This is very important, to establish my whole point. At the beginning of the CDS, after our research was complete, it was established that most legislatures in the world also have to deal with "bad laws" (but not unconstitutional ones!), and that two systems predominate to minimise that from happening: the bicameral system and a system where laws have to be approved by a Head of State (President or Monarch, as the case might be). In both cases, "bad laws" can be checked by a third party.

In the CDS, originally, it was deemed to be worthless to have two chambers for such a tiny population (after two years we have reached again the same number of members that originally started Neualtenburg!) and too dangerous to give unchecked powers to a "Head of State" that would accomplish that role.

Instead, since we had a three-branched system, that power was entrusted to the Philosophical Branch instead, among its other roles.

Under the current system, however, the RA is bound to pass "good laws" because the Chancellor can veto them if they're not good enough — and the Chancellor has no need to provide any good reason for the veto, only the [i:3o4vizhk]will[/i:3o4vizhk] to do so. However, it is a "weak veto" — since it can be overriden by the RA with a 2/3 majority — thus providing better and more adequate protection from the abuse of powers from either side. I would say it's more of a [i:3o4vizhk]political veto[/i:3o4vizhk], in the sense that if the law is so bad that the Chancellor feels a [i:3o4vizhk]moral compulsion[/i:3o4vizhk] to veto it, overriding that veto will certainly show the public how devious and irresponsible the RA is behaving.

Effectively, we moved on from a three-branched system of government to a five-branched system, where existing powers that seemed to be focused on too-strong and opaque branches (Guild and SC) were subsequently distributed into a more balanced way among other branches. A consequence of that is the current proposal to get rid of the Guild altogether, since it was, for all purposes, voided of functions (but still has a veto power!), which is inconsistent with its existence.

I argue that the original purpose of the SC — like the original purpose of the Guild — is also inexistant, to the effect that all the powers — except the constitutional validation in a literal form — have been removed from it. It makes no sense to "pretend" that the SC exists any more in its previous form, like it doesn't make any sense to "pretend" the Guild exists any more.

Instead, like the Guild's powers were subsumed by other structures (mostly by the Executive branch, the Treasury, the Estate owner...), I continue to argue that the same should happen to the "Scientific Council". The only power that remains to be assigned is the one of providing a literal interpretation of the Constitution — and I thus insist in proposing the creation of a "Constitutional Court" or "High Court" to establish a new branch of Government with clearly-defined goals, objectives, and procedures. As a matter of fact, I think that the Judiciary Act already defines all the goals, objectives and purposes, so the bill to be introduced would very likely be only:

Philosophical Branch Extinction Act

1) The Philosophical Branch is hereby extinguished and Article III of the Constitution is deleted.

2) A new branch, called "The Constitutional Court", is hereby created and its goals, purposes and procedures are the ones defined by the Judiciary Act regarding the "Scientific Council acting as a Court".

3) All powers and procedures as defined by the Judiciary Act regarding the "Scientific Council acting as a Court" transitate to the Constitutional Court, and all relevant articles and sections introduced by the Judiciary Act are changed to reflect the transition of powers to the new branch.

4) Members of the Constitutional Court will be qualified using the same procedures and requirements as established for the Judges of the Common Jurisdiction.

5) Members of the Constitutional Court will be appointed by the Public Judiciary Scrutiny Panel in the same way as Judges of the Common Jurisdiction, or by the Representative Assembly in the case that the Public Judiciary Scrutiny Panel has less than three members.

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Post by Ashcroft Burnham »

Gwyn, as I pointed out in response to Aliasi, it is rather confusing to call it a "court", beucase, while some of the SC's functions are judicial, others are quasi-legislative, and others are administrative.

But I still do not see why you think that the Council is so radically different from what it was before just because it must now follow and uphold the rule of law: before, it could veto acts of the RA for being constitutional, now it still can; before, it could impeachment hearings; now it still can; before, it had important administrative functions; now, it still has. All that has changed is that the Council is now required to adhere more strictly to written rules.

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Post by Gwyneth Llewelyn »

Just for the record, neither Ulrika nor Kendra effectively started Neualtenburg with money from their pockets :) Neualtenburg was not a private sim, but mainland land under lease from Linden Lab, which was paid for with personal tier, split among dozens of people (neither Ulrika nor Kendra were the major stakeholders, although both obviously contributed tier to the land).

When the move to a private island was completed, Kendra was temporarily away from Second Life (fortunately returning a few months afterwards), and there was indeed money pooled for buying the new sim, not unlike what happened recently with Colonia Nova. Ulrika, at that time, was effectively one of the stakeholders, but at the same level of commitment than all the others (the cost of the sim was split among everyone launching it).

While the rest of the assumptions might or not be correct (ie. running a "secret cabal" to run the sim...) — it was never formally proved! — it would be unfair to implicate that two people devised a system to "put them in power" because of their initial financial commitments to it. Actually, one of the initial members of the "provisory government", who acted as LRA until the first elections, was the first one to be replaced through a democratic vote, and Kendra, as you all know, resigned as Guildmaster exactly to allow rotativity in an otherwise "hermetic" branch. Finally, the SC grew up in membership from the moment of the second term. So, the genesis of Neualtenburg was totally unlike the one for Caledon in that respect, and although one could argue about the lack of procedures and transparency in the early beginnings (understandable for something so "new"), it would also be unfair to dismiss the whole situation as a "mock democracy", even if this was an often-called accusation. In the minds of most (I would say almost all) of the citizens of early Neufreistadt, there was real and honest intent to establish a [i:j3jea5pe]true[/i:j3jea5pe], liberal democracy (in the sense that Rudy uses the word "liberal", ie. free), and the first struggles were exactly in dealing with some incorrectly defined wordings of the laws or the Constitution that hampered the process. Some things did work better than others; some took literally years to finally be correctly deployed.

I cannot remember exactly the numbers, but it's fair to assume that around 20 people elaborated the whole system through open discussions in the forums during a period of about 10 weeks or so, and these 20 did indeed pool enough tier among them to be able to support the mainland parcel leased by LL to the city. Further 40 people — many of those also contributing tier, but not all — almost immediately joined the original group, bringing it to a total of about 60 people when the building phase was finished and the first elections were announced.

This is just historical trivia, but it's important for me that people don't get the wrong impression — there was definitely no organised plan to design a flawed system from scratch to allow for clear abuse of powers, even if it can be argued [i:j3jea5pe]a posteriori[/i:j3jea5pe] that these powers [i:j3jea5pe]might[/i:j3jea5pe] have been abused in the past (again, unproven, except in one very specific case :) and mostly through a limitation of SL's former group tools).

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What's in a name?

Post by Ashcroft Burnham »

[b:2twjgovh][u:2twjgovh]What's in a name?[/b:2twjgovh][/u:2twjgovh]

Gwyneth remarks that, if the function of the Scientific Council is to change from a council of people who use their own discretion to over-ride the democratic institutions when they believe that they have acted rashly, to a body whose function is to interpret and enforce the rule of constitutional law, the name "Scientific Council" and "Philosophic Branch" (I never could work out why all the branches had two names each) should be changed to reflect this new status.

I doubt that that is necessary. When an institution's function slowly evolves over time, its name does not change. Along with the evolution of a body's functions, there is continuity that is marked by the retention of the name. The Scientific Council of the present may not be the same secret illuminati of old of which Aliasi writes, but it shares many important features in common, particularly the function of interpreting and enforcing the constitution.

In the UK, we have an institution called the "privy council". Its present functions divide into two categories: it exercises the royal prerogative (to do things like regulate the civil service), and it has a (now totally separate in all but name) judicial committee, which is the ultimate court of appeal for a (decreasing) number British Commonwealth countries. Its origins, however, are markedly different. The name "privy council" comes from the name "privy", meaning literally a form of lavatory; the idea was originally that those who were close enough to tend to the king's lavatorial needs were in a powerful position to influence his policies. That in time became formalised into a council of advisors (similar to Desmond's in Caledon), and eventually morphed further into its modern role. During all that time, however, nobody has thought it necessary to change the name, even though the modern privy council has not the least to do with our queen's personal hygiene.

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Post by Ashcroft Burnham »

Ahh, thank you, Gwyneth, for the historical insight. While the point about financial investments may not be applicable to Neualtenburg, however, the point about a creator wishing to retain control of her creation still does.

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