The answer should contain the following part:
A brief introduction discussing the relationship between law and ethics.
How law and ethics complement each other, with the help of examples.
When do both stand in contradiction to each other, again with the help of appropriate examples.
The old adage “If it isn’t illegal, it must be ethical” is deeply flawed in the context of modern society. Ethics and law are as different as the unenforceable from the enforceable, and as complementary to each other in the ultimate aim of creating a citizenry, which does the ‘right’ thing when confronted with dilemmas.
Law are codified norms of the society, backed by the legitimacy of the state. It reflects areas of moral agreement so broad that the society comes together and says, “This ethical behaviour shall be mandated”. To a broad extent, when ethics collapses, the law rushes in to fill the void.
An example helps here. Earlier you didn’t throw litter on the road simply because “people don’t do those things”—because it was the “wrong” thing to do. Now you don’t toss litter because there are fines for doing so. What was once a second domain issue of ethics has shifted to a firstdomain issue of law. In such examples, legal framework and ethics play a complementary role.
But there’s another side to it too, when legal framework can possibly have an anomalous relationship with the ethical framework. A case in point is the “Ethics of civil disobedience”. The standard of civil disobedience urges that unjust laws be disobeyed. Mahatma Gandhi effectively used it in the 1920s against an unjust but lawful government. Later on, civil rights movement in the United States in 1960s and anti-apartheid movement in South Africa also were directed against unjust laws present in those times. Civil disobedience demands moral reasons to disobey the law.
Such an anomaly is striking in the modern society because of the growing acceptance of importance of delivering human rights to everyone, which many a times come in conflict with the prevailing conservative laws. Gay rights movement is a relevant example.