The Infinite Lists of The Law

We are a culture of lists. We list both the animate and the inanimate as we create lists of items, dates, times, and even dreams. categorizing and prioritizing is a must in our busy world where lists order to the chaos surrounding us. Even when faced with a new year, we make a list of resolutions, which serve to galvanize our dreams into reality. professionally, we would be labeled unorganized and inefficient if we did not abide by our daily to do lists. 

This penchant for cataloguing our desires and possessions is the subject of Umberto Eco's beautifully illustrated book The Infinity of Lists. Eco's premise is basic and primal: we live to make lists for an infinite number of reasons. Some lists are self-referential and enclosed such as a list of Canadian capital cities, while other lists find meaning through personal reference points found only outside of the list such as the list of holocaust victims at Yad Vashem. Still others are infinite in scope and contain an unspoken etcetera such as visualized in Pannini'spicture galleries.

Eco's theme can be applied to any subject area; not only art catalogues and literary warrior lists, but also in the legal arena. Every judgment contains a list of decisions relied upon, every civil discovery involves a list of pre-determined questions, every divorce requires a list of financial documents to be exchanged. There are court lists, which in turn may require jury lists, and then ultimately, witness lists and exhibit lists. 

Laws themselves are really just a list of dos and don'ts. Indeed our Criminal Code is merely a list of sections, which currently happen to number a solid 849. However, that number too is misleading and not as predictable as first imagined. Like accordion folds, many of the sections contain further divisions and are actually a dizzying array of laws.

For example, the search warrant section 487, expands incrementally from section 487.01 to section 487.017 and then further divides from section 487.02 to section 487.092, where it segues into section 487.1 to section 487.3, until it finally rests at section 488. Thus, s.487 to s.488 becomes a maze of laws as some 33 sections span the divide between the two. Found in this span are the DNA warrant sections, showing that what may seem an absurd hodgepodge list is actually crucial and important powers and procedures in our criminal law.

Lists are important and certainly in the legal world, help us make sense of what can be a confusing process. The power of list making should, therefore, not be underestimated, and neither should we dismiss the infinite possibilities of a list.