Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Picard: What I am about to do is a direct violation of our orders. If anyone objects, please do so now. It will be noted in my log.
Data: Captain, I believe I speak for everyone here, sir, when I say... "to hell with our orders."

So the Big Damn Heroes are about to set off to Save the World. Not so fast, red tape and bureaucracy are standing in the way of the world's last hope. Well, there's only one thing to do. Ignore the orders of the Obstructive Bureaucrat and/or Corrupt Bureaucrat then go Save the World anyway. This is, after all, a Matter of Life and Death.

Other less dramatic examples are usually helping someone out when the rules say that you shouldn't.

However, when a Lawful Good character has to choose between order and what's right they may break Lawful rather than Good and end up on this path. Some particularly scrupulous types will even willingly accept punishment afterward; this is called "civil disobedience". More often, though, they're Saved by the Awesome.

Applying this trope does not mean that the ends justify the means, but rather that the person acts compassionate and follows his conscience even when the rules would forbid it (or to put it another way, they do justify the means, but the means usually aren't very terrible). When a Knight Templar attempts this, they are likely to Jump Off the Slippery Slope Doing What They Had To Do instead.

A good aligned Cowboy Cop/Military Maverick will almost certainly invoke this trope at least once.

Can be the cause of Awakening the Sleeping Giant if a group's new leaders decide to break with tradition. If the rules are such that the character is already on the run from the law, see Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help. If it involves directly disobeying a direct order of a superior officer in the armed forces, it's The Mutiny. This trope is the primary drive behind Chaotic Good characters.

Compare Sudden Principled Stand and Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow.

Examples of Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right include:

Anime and Manga

  • Bleach in the Soul Society Arc: Ichigo fights to save Rukia from execution, despite said execution being under law.
    • Although the law in this case has been subverted by the Big Bad, they have no way of knowing that until the end.
      • The Big Bad himself pointed out that the court had violated due process in ordering Rukia's execution, which arguably made the execution illegal.
    • Ichigo does the same thing for Orihime when Yamamoto specifically orders him to stay and defend Karakura, thus setting off the Hueco Mundo arc. Though it's worth mentioning that Ichigo was never part of the Gotei 13 and Yamamoto has no real direct authority over him... but he does over some of the people that follow him into it.
    • Rukia gives Ichigo her powers despite knowing that it's against the law to do so, setting off the entire story.
    • Ukitake and Kyoraku destroy the device meant for Rukia's execution, and do so knowing that their commander - and mentor - Yamamoto would kill them for the treasonous act. Aizen's far greater treachery stops the ensuing fight between teacher and students.
  • In Death Note, Light Yagami uses his supernatural notebook to kill hundreds of criminals in a few days, with the eventual goal of killing every irredeemable criminal in the world. Whether he is right in doing this is up for debate, but he certainly believes it's right. However, when the police try to stop him, he quickly decides that anyone who stands in the way of his goal is better off dead.
  • Dai-Guard: In the series finale Shirou Shirota disobeys orders to stop a Over Explosion Bomb from being dropped on Tokyo to stop the Monster of the Week from covering the world. His plan works, but the bomb might not have.
  • Vandread: At the end of the Second Stage, Hibiki launches into an epic speech in defiance of the planetary governments to rally the people of Tarak and Mejale into standing up and stopping the Harvest fleet.
  • In Soul Eater, during a mission to retrieve and Ancient Artifact from a magnetic vortex, Professor Stein (who was in charge of the mission) and his weapon partner Anya were supossed to be the only ones who will enter the vortex since it was to dangerous, while the students of the DWMA will stay outside in order to stop enemy interference. However, the students later disregarded the orders to save the teachers(the first group to enter) and his fellow schoolmates (after the teachers came out but not the first group) the latter group being threatened of getting expelled if they don't follow the orders.
  • Captain Harlock turns to space piracy because of the corruption of Earth's government, but still fights for what he believes in and is willing to defend the Earth if need be.
  • Code Geass has Suzaku, the pilot of a Humongous Mecha, punch the mech's designer in the face when he didn't let him go out and fight. Now whether you consider his actions justice-driven or revenge-driven decides whether this belongs here. Particularly interesting in that Suzaku is usually the inverse of this trope, fighting for The Empire even though he knows it's corrupt and wicked.
  • Gurren Lagann subverts this. Rossiu sticks Simon in jail to execute him in order to appease a mob, but despite the Hot-Blooded past of the show, Simon sits down and takes it. The viewer expects to see some awesome scene where Simon breaks out, but nothing happens. Later on he is freed "legally".
    • I wouldn't exactly say "legally". More like "because we need you", as the Ark Dai-Gurren didn't have any defensive capabilities at all.
  • Trinity Blood: In the episode Overcount I. The Belfry of Downfall Cardinal Caterina Sforza breaks Vatican protocol in seeking to stop a weapon that could destroy all of Rome. As a result she placed under house arrest and is hinted that that she might have been executed. However, she is cleared when the weapon is used.
  • Vision of Escaflowne: The Knight Caeli Allen Schezar abandons his country of Asturia in order to stop the Zaibach Empire's attack on Duchy of Freid as well as plunging all of Gaea into war. It turns out, Zaibach's goal to recreate the power of Atlantis would have destroyed all of Gaea.
  • Negi in Mahou Sensei Negima, when the teachers get in the way. He tries following the rules, hell, he's even working to make sure there are still rules to follow. Eventually he just decides to hell with it, they're not going to listen. Oddly enough, however, he's not actually sure that he is doing the right thing, just that the teachers are wrong.
  • This is the motto of the Fairy Tail mages.

Markarov: Do what you think is right, that's the way of the Fairy Tail mages!!

  • Naruto Uzumaki in Naruto, this is just the way he is throughout the series.
    • Also Hatake Kakashi and his father Sakumo, who became an outcast after choosing his comrades' lives over his mission and committed suicide afterwards. Kakashi himself took on this approach to the rules after his best friend's death.

Kakashi: Those who break laws are scum. And those who abandon their friends to follow the law... they're lower than scum!

  • In Monster, Tenma's boss reassigns him from operating on a young boy with a bullet in his head to operating on the mayor instead. Knowing that he is the only one who can pull off the first surgery successfully, he proceeds with it against direct orders. Morally laudable, but it turned out to be The Wrong Right Thing.
  • Prince Wilfred of Private Prince invokes this many times, specially when he plans to renounce to his royalty status and marry into his girlfriend Miyako's Japanese family, if that's the only way for him to stay with her and escape the Royal Family.
  • Pulled by Renzaburo in Wicked City, who goes rescue his partner Makie despite his boss's orders.
  • Happened several times in Rosario + Vampire most notably when Mizore's mother helps the heroes rescue Mizore from her Arranged Marriage despite said marriage being legal and traditional, explaining that she knew Mizore would be unhappy because her arranged groom was an asshole.
  • In the first season of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Nanoha defies orders to save Fate.
  • In recent One Piece chapters, Jinbe breaks Fishman Island's laws to give blood to Luffy.
    • And before that, Jinbe refused to answer the World Government's call to fight against the Whitebeard Pirates, because his homeland owed a great debt to Whitebeard. This led directly to his meeting and befriending both Luffy and his older brother Ace, and defecting to aid Luffy and the Whitebeard in their attempt to save Ace from execution. Really, this is what Jinbe's all about. He'll do what's right, regardless of the cost to himself.
  • In Full Moon o Sagashite, Takuto and Meroko decided to prevent Mitsuki's death, even though they are shinigami and they would possibly lose their own lives for breaking such a taboo, which leads to the series' Crowning Moment of Awesome Even Izumi joins in the manga version!

Comic Books

  • In Devil's Due's G.I. Joe vs the Transformers Generation 1, the Joes defy orders to capture Wheeljack and Bumblebee, who were already working with them, and take them to Area 51 for study when they find out that the nukes the government plans to hit the Cobra base with are going to have an adverse effect when combined with the Energon that Cobra is trying to produce.
    • Heck, under Larry Hama's pen, the Joes regularly went against orders from more corrupt organizations like the Jugglers in order to do the right thing instead. One story arc even featured Destro saving the Joes after they were framed by a corrupt General.
  • Despite his "Big Blue Boyscout" reputation, Superman is willing to tear straight through any laws in his way if lives are on the line. He'll also willingly turn himself in afterward.
  • This is Batman's thing. The entire point of him dressing up like a giant bat and haunting the night is because he would never get anything done playing by the rules.
  • Captain America:

Doesn't matter what the press says. Doesn't matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world -- "No, YOU move."

  • Most of the anti-registration superheroes in Civil War.
  • The dawn of the Bronze Age pretty much happened when Hal Jordan, following a lecture from Green Arrow, disobeyed the Guardians' orders and set out to stop a crooked businessman who was putting poor families out on the streets.
    • This is a fairly common theme in Green Lantern, period. The four human lanterns, and often a number of the alien ones will go against a direct order from the Guardians or their Justice League teammates if they believe it will serve a greater purpose. Kyle Rayner sends a prisoner to Zamaron instead of Oa, John Stewart tells Batman to shove it when Bats disrespects Hal, the aforementioned Hal Jordan example, and Guy Gardner...well, he's freaking Guy Gardner.
    • Hell, you could even argue that this is Sinestro's motivation too; he's doing what he feels is right to protect the universe, sacrificing everything that's precious to him - his status as a GL, his family life, his reputation - all because he disagreed with the Guardians over the application of the GL code. Some of the things he did clearly went too far, but the man's got a point.
  • Uatu, the Watcher is an observer sworn not to interfere in the affairs of Earth but there's just something about humans--
  • This trope is pretty much the reason that Nick Fury made Secret War happen.
  • Teen Titans villain Slade Deathstroke Wilson Start of Darkness that was the result of this. Trained under a Super Soldier program in the U.S. Army, Slade had a friend, a fellow soldier, who volunteered for a Suicide Mission. But the mission was botched, and the soldier was captured alive by the enemy. As per regulations regarding such things, the Army denied any knowledge of the captured soldier's existence, but deny it as they might, they could not hide what happened from Slade. After repeated attempts to convince his superiors to rescue his friend, or even negotiate for his release all fell on deaf ears, Slade defied orders and attempted a rescue on his own. While he succeeded, he was court-martialed and kicked out of the Army as a result. With little faith left in his own government, Slade became a mercenary and hired killer, and the rest as they say is history.


Sulu: The word, sir?
Kirk: The word is "No". I am therefore going anyway.

  • Star Trek: First Contact: Captain Jean-Luc Picard disobeys the orders of Starfleet Command and goes to the front lines to engage the Borg.

Picard: What I am about to do is a direct violation of our orders. If anyone objects, please do so now. It will be noted in my log.
Data: Captain, I believe I speak for everyone here, sir, when I say... "to hell with our orders".

  • In Star Trek: Insurrection, the entire plot revolved around this trope so much that their rebelling against the rules is actually part of the title.
    • The thing which sets the plot off is Data, who was assigned on what he thought was a survey mission, and attacked to keep the truth hidden when he discovered what was really going on. This damage kicked him into a kind of basic mode of functioning, probably designed to keep him from being used as a weapon, wherein his program directed him to do the right thing, regardless of whatever else was going on. Essentially he was programmed with a Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right default mode.
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country:

Uhura: We are ordered back to spacedock... to be decommissioned.
Spock: If I were human, I believe my response would be "go to hell".

  • Dirty Harry lives this trope. So do some other Clint Eastwood characters.
  • The Naked Gun. Frank Drebin tries to live this trope from time to time, sadly with more realistic consequences than most Big Damn Heroes.
  • In Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Lennox and the other NEST soldiers fly off not only to deliver Optimus Prime to Egypt, but actually take the Obstructive Bureaucrat with them so they can push him out of the plane on the way (with the Parachute, unfortunately). The latter was presumably because it would take him longer to rat them out than if they left him at the base. And because Lennox was having way too much fun screwing with the guy.
  • In the film version of The Running Man, Ben Richards is ordered to fire upon a food riot. When he refuses, the crew overpowers him and carries out the order. Richards is then blamed by the state and becomes known as the "Butcher of Bakersfield".
  • In The Matrix Reloaded Neo realises Trinity will be killed by an Agent, and insists she stays out of the matrix; however, despite his pleading, Trinity states "[She refuses] to sit and watch [Neo] die", and does so anyway.
  • At the end of Serenity, after the Miranda recording has been broadcast, The Operative orders his troops to stand down, on the logic that the damage has already been done and further bloodshed is pointless. He even helps patch up the crew and repair the Serenity afterwards.
    • Don't forget Jayne's "If you can't do something smart, do something right."
  • Crimson Tide is all about this. Lt. Commander Hunter (played by Denzel Washington) actually commits mutiny and seizes control of the USS Alabama in the name of preventing nuclear war.
    • Though Hunter insists throughout that it was not a mutiny, he did everything "by the book". It was the Captain who disobeyed proper procedure, by not holding the launch countdown pending retrieval of the message, and attempting to relieve Hunter for fulfilling his role, the very reason why there's two sets of keys. As far as Hunter sees it, his actions were all Lawful as well as Good.
  • In I Robot: Sonny, a advanced robot who is able to think independently of the three laws, agrees that the actions of the main villain are perfectly rational and that their logic is sound in accordance with the laws of robotics; however he chooses go against their plan because it "just seems too heartless."
  • In Hellboy II, Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien go against orders to take a dying Hellboy to Prince Nuada's realm in order to save his life. Johann Kraus intercepts them, seemingly intending to either reason with them or arrest them for disobeying orders, but instead joins them.
  • In Avatar, Trudy Chacon's Neutral Face Turn comes when she's ordered to fire on a tree full of defenseless Na'vi:

"Screw this. I didn't sign up for this shit!"

  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: General Hawk first subverted his orders by telling the team that they could violate the spirit of the orders without technically violating the letter and later launched an unsanctioned attack on Cobra's Arctic base after the organization was ordered disbanded.
  • Street Fighter: "Troopers, I just received new orders. Our superiors say the war is cancelled. We can all go home. Bison is getting paid off for his crimes, and our friends who have died here will have died for nothing. But, we can all go home. Meanwhile, ideals like peace, freedom, and justice, they get packed up. But, we can all go home. Well, I'm not going home. I'm gonna get on my boat, and I'm going up river, and I'm going to kick that son of a bitch Bison's ass so hard that the next Bison wannabe is gonna feel it! Now, who wants to go home... and who wants to go with me?"
  • National Treasure is all about a guy who steals the Declaration of Independence so someone else can't. In the sequel he kidnaps the President but unlike the first movie it has absolutely nothing to do with "saving the country" or anything, Gates just wants to find El Dorado and clear Thomas Gates' name of treason.
  • Starship Troopers has a scene where Sergeant Zim is arguing with his superior officer to let him join the war. Being a boot camp instructor, he won't get anywhere near the front lines unless he "busts himself back to a Private". Rico bursts in, asking Zim to cancel his resignation so that he too can join the war effort. Zim shows him the resignation documents, and after a silent nod from his superior officer, rips them up and thus gives both of them what they want.
    • And the end of movie shows that Zim did end up busting himself down to private, though that's probably a subversion, since he was actually following the rules in that case.
  • The primary reason Jason keeps the evidence from the police in Mystery Team.
  • In '"Tears of the Sun, the SEAL Team engages the Nigerian rebels after watching the rebels massacre a village, not to mention trying to extract as many indigenous refugees from the conflict zone as possible, against direct orders from their command center.
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers' first real action in World War II is when he rescues 400 soldiers from HYDRA against Colonel Philips' orders. Subverted to a degree when, after returning the men to their base successfully, Steve voluntarily surrendered himself for disciplinary action, only to have Phillips say, "I don't think that will be necessary."
    • Also Agent Peggy Carter decides to help Steve to get into the HYDRA base, at the risk of her career. Likewise with Howard Stark who flew the plane into enemy lines.
  • Sartana in Machete could have supplied the header quote if there wasn't already one:

"Well, there's the law and there's what's right. I'm gonna do what's right."

  • The Phantom Menace has Qui-Gon Jinn who will defy the council to train Anakin because he believes the boy is the "Chosen One." Never mind how bad that went. He was sure he was doing the right thing at the time.
  • Heimdall in Thor is ordered by the temporary king Loki to not open the Bifrost to anyone. When the Warriors Three and Sif decide to break the rules and go anyways and tell this to Heimdall, the latter simply replies with a "Good!" and walks away. After readying the Bifrost, of course.
  • Nick Fury does this in The Avengers when the WSC orders a nuclear strike on Manhattan to stop the Chitauri invasion.

Nick Fury: I recognize that the council has made a decision. But given that it's a stupid-ass decision, I have chosen to ignore it.

  • In Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frollo orders Captain Phoebus to burn down a windmill—with a couple and their two children locked inside of it. When Phoebus objects, saying that he was not trained to murder innocent civilians, Frollo starts the fire himself. Phoebus promptly breaks into the windmill to get the family out safely, and is arrested immediately afterward. Frollo comments on how he expected better from such a decorated officer.
  • In Mulan, the title character saved the life of Shang. When he learn that Mulan disguise herself as guy to spare her father, Shang decided to return the favor and spare her life rather than having her executed by law. Since Fa Mulan didn't have any brothers and her veteran father wasn't in good condition for battle, Fa took his place to protect the country from the Huns knowing she faced execution if caught but Shang thought else-wise. Mulan was forgiven for doing this after it was understood that she had to protect both her country and family despite what the law stated.
  • In the Police Academy series, the "dedicated graduates" do this all the time, often bending or outright breaking regulations and occassionally disobeying superiors to catch the perps. Ultimately they are forgiven, as they eventually do save the day.


"If Snape gets hold of the Stone, Voldemort's coming back! Haven't you heard what it was like when he was trying to take over? There won't be any Hogwarts to get expelled from! He'll flatten it, or turn it into a school for the Dark Arts! Losing points doesn't matter anymore, can't you see? D'you think he'll leave you and your families alone if Gryffindor wins the House Cup?"

    • During the whole saga, Harry often breaks the rules to do what's right, to the extreme of robbing a bank, as well as using Unforgiveable Curses, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
      • Although his use of some of the Unforgiveables can be debatable.
      • The first time he tried one (Cruciatus Curse), he was in extreme rage because Bellatrix killed Sirius. The second time (Imperius Curse), he uses it because it's crucial for him to defeat Voldemort. The third time (Cruciatus Curse again) is the only really questionable instance. Of course, what Amycus Carrow did was pretty despicable, but Harry could have just used Petrificus Totalus instead.
    • Sometimes, Hermione (who is always a stickler for the rules) realizes that breaking the rules is the best thing they can do.
    • One of Minerva McGonagall's best moments: during Umbridge's rule as Headmistress, she condones what amounts to almost anarchy at the school from both the students and Peeves the Poltergeist in order to drive Umbridge out of Hogwarts. "It unscrews the other way" will always be one of the best lines EVER in Harry Potter's books.
      • Not just her, but most of the other teachers as well, including Snape
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Huck's comrade throughout the book, fugitive slave Jim, has been captured and is to be returned whence he fled. Huck elects to break him out. This instance is a special case within the trope, because Huck in fact believes himself to be choosing wrong, and wickedness, because all the moral teaching he has ever been given has been geared to following rules, and disobedience is equated with evil. His innate moral sense triumphs anyway.

Huckleberry Finn: It was a close place. I took [the letter giving Jim away] up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: "All right, then, I'll go to hell!"--and tore it up.

  • In The Dresden Files, this trope is one of Harry Dresden's key character traits—the man started a war over it, in fact.
  • Sherlock Holmes loves this trope. He even keeps a set of tools to break into people's houses and never hesitates in using them, willingly became an accessory after the fact to the murder of a particularly nasty villain, perhaps knowingly became indirectly responsible for the death of a murderer (expressing no remorse what so ever afterwards), etc. Most impressive is that he seems to not think that the extremes he sometimes goes too solve cases is going too far, shrugging or even smiling with amusement when called out on it.
    • This is at least partly because for Sherlock Holmes, it's more about the thrill of solving a complex mystery than serving the cause of justice; he's more interested in the mystery than the result. And, as he once lampshaded when letting a perpetrator go because he was convinced the perp was not beyond redemption, it's not his job to compensate for the deficiencies of the police.
  • Similarly, his contemporary Arsène Lupin. When he is not lying, cheating and stealing to get what he wants, he is Lying, cheating and stealing to right a wrong or save some one from an unfortunate fate, even when there are multiple, more ethical, ways to do so.
  • During the X Wing Series, Rogue Squadron is betrayed by one of their own, who then joins the Imperials in taking over a strategically important planet. The New Republic wants to ignore that planet for now, since attacking would be diplomatically unsound. So Commander Antilles resigns his commission and quits the New Republic, rapidly followed by the rest of Rogue Squadron. They form an independent force devoted to destroying the bacta cartel. Much later, since things turned out well, the entire squadron is welcomed back, reinstated, and told that they had the tacit support of the New Republic—the history texts would mark the entire operation as legitimate.
    • Starfighters of Adumar has a similar but vastly more personal version. Wedge and his pilots have been sent on a diplomatic mission to Adumar, whose hat is pilot-worship and Blood Sport, in order to get them to join the New Republic. The Imperials have also sent some pilots. Both groups fly against native Adumari pilots and win handily, since as Proud Warrior Race Guys the Adumari never get very skilled. The Imperial pilots fly with full-strength lasers and shoot to kill; the New Republic ones do not, and Wedge's diplomatic liaison says that in not following standard native practice they are disrespecting their traditions, which means that the Imperial pilots look better. Wedge tells himself that if it was a matter of flying against some champion, some enemy, he'd do it without a qualm, but the Adumari aren't his enemies. He stalls by pulling a Sure Why Not and telling the liaison that he's waiting for his immediate superior to order him to fly lethally. But he knows that if ordered, he will refuse and end up getting kicked out at the least - which is a big deal for him, since Wedge has been part of the New Republic since he was in his teens, and literally all of his friends are involved in the military.
    • There's also Thrawn in Outbound Flight, who really wants to protect the Chiss, but often clashes with his culture's views on preemptive attacks, which is what eventually leads to his exile. It's morally ambiguous, and Thrawn does become a full-fledged villain later on, but it's hard to argue that the Vagaari didn't deserve everything they got.
  • Discworld:

Death knew that to tinker with the fate of one individual could destroy the whole world. He knew this. The knowledge was built into him.
To Bill Door, he realized, it was so much horse elbows.
Oh, damn, he said. And walked into the fire.

    • This is not the first or last time Death has done this. See also Ysabell in Mort and the Little Match Girl in Hogfather.
      • There was a loophole for the match girl; he was acting as the Hogfather, who's allowed to do things like that.

Death: The Hogfather can. The Hogfather gives presents. There is no better present than a future.

    • Sir Samuel Vimes, captain of the Watch, is pretty much this 90% of the time.
  • Salvor Hardin in Foundation has it down to a philosophy of life, expressed in one of the epigrams atributed to him which will be later adopted by the merchants:

- "Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right."

  • At least Once an Episode in Dale Brown's books, Brad Elliott, Patrick McLanahan and the Dreamland old-timers will ignore or resist the commands of higher authority to save the world, even if most of them wish they could work together with the conventional military rather than fight.
  • This is a major part of Joey Bettany's character in the early Chalet School books. She's more than happy to break rules in order to save people (or dogs, in Jo of the Chalet School).
  • Siuan Sanche from The Wheel of Time does this all the time, although in her case it's more like seeing the rules From a Certain Point of View.
  • Animorphs' Ellimist can't really "break" his rules without causing a massive, universe-destroying war with the Eldritch Abomination God of Evil, but he's been shown to twist or bend them in the good guys' favor whenever possible.
  • At the end of the fourth Temeraire book, Laurence commits treason by stealing the cure for the dragons' illness and taking it to France, because the alternative is to let the illness spread across the world killing dragons who aren't even involved in the war. Then he goes back to England and turns himself in, fully expecting to be hanged.
  • In an odd villainous example, Saint Dane of The Pendragon Adventure started out as a good guy, who lived as a spirit in Solara and after a while couldn't stand seeing people make bad decisions over and over. His job was to just show every aspect of a situation, but instead he began to point people in a specific direction, which was technically breaking the rules. (Compare with the story of Lucifer in The Bible to get a better understanding) Then he went mad with power and decided to become a god who controlled everything and everyone. Even though the original intent fit this trope (That of pointing man in a positive direction with his hand), at the end of the series he's just gotten plain selfish.
  • A very controversial example from A Song of Ice and Fire: Jaime Lannister, one of the King's body guards, learns that the King is planning to burn down his own capital in order to spite his enemies, thereby killing thousands of people, including the King's own grandchildren. Jaime decides to violate his oath to protect the King and kills him before he can give the order. In this case, the character in question clearly believes he's invoking this trope, but the other characters (and the readers) are far more divided.
  • Similar to the "bust me on the surface" example in the Real Life section, in the Honor Harrington Expanded Universe short story A Ship Named Francis, after the captain managed to put himself into a coma by colliding with a bulkhead headfirst during a potato sack toboggan race, leaving the borderline psychotic first officer in charge, and decides to arrest 20% of the crew on capital charges on the first day of assuming command. Since the ship was 5 days from their home port, statistics implied that the acting captain would have executed the entire crew before they made it back. In order to prevent a mutiny and/or mass murder, the medics and bosun decide to switch the lethal injections with tranquilizers and then store the sedated bodies until they could be revived later, ostensibly to return the bodies to their families. When the bosun points out that by deliberately seeking to subvert their captain's actions, they were committing a court martial offense, one of the medics replied that he'd take his chances with a court-martial on Grayson (With a presumably sane judge presiding).

Live-Action TV

  • The final episode of Titus sees Amy confronted by the man who sexually assaulted her when she was younger. After finding out who he is, Titus and company have the molester cornered in a school bathroom, ready to wail on him with a baseball bat. The school principal, who up until this point has been nothing but an Obstructive Bureaucrat, says he has to call school security, but tells Titus to "call me when I'm done."
  • In Doctor Who, many events in time are malleable and adjust to compensate for visiting time travellers (which is why the Doctor can, say, safely walk around with Shakespeare and introduce Charles Dickens to aliens without damaging the universe). Fixed Points, however, are moments of history that cannot (or at least must not) be changed, at the risk of unleashing horrible monsters that could kill a lot of people, or else seriously changing the timeline. Every now and then a character (occasionally the Doctor himself) will say "Screw it" and try to change these fixed points anyway. The results are never good, even when the character was making a moral stance, or trying to save someone's life.
    • Subverted as of new season six, where it's demonstrated that fixed points of time and space are not always precisely as they appear.
    • In general, a key part of the Doctor's motivation for doing what he does is his righteous outrage at the rules and regulations the Time Lords lived by which prevented them from acting to oppose evil, instead being content merely to stand aloof.
  • Stargate SG-1 uses this trope quite a bit.
    • Oma Desala lives this trope.
    • In the first season episode "Enigma", Daniel Jackson goes against orders to help the Tollan get to their stargateless new world.
      • One should note that he got away with it because A) he's a civilian, so he's not subject to military law, and it would be hard to find a civilian law to cover the matter, and B) his superiors (chiefly O'Neill and Hammond) agreed with the decision.
    • In the first season finale "Within the Serpent's Grasp" the whole of SG-1 disobeys orders to launch a first strike against Apophis and his assault upon the planet after the Obstructive Bureaucrat and Corrupt Bureaucrat Senator Robert Kinsey shuts down Stargate Command.
    • In the Ori arc, three ascended ancients are shown to do this to help humanity.
    • In fact, the entire series starts with Jack having to explain his use of this trope in Stargate The Movie. Not only did he lie about nuking the Stargate when there turned out to be a threat, which would have wiped out the indigenous civilization (he took the threat itself out with the bomb instead), he lied about Daniel Jackson being dead so Daniel could stay with the wife he'd fallen in love with. General Hammond was not terribly pleased with the two of them when he found out the deception, but he got over it quickly enough.
      • Hell, this is the signature trope of both SG-1 and their Stargate Atlantis equivalents. They always get away with it. In one episode of SG-1 (Upgrades), the titular team disobeys direct orders to neutralize a serious threat. When they return to Stargate Command, Jack explicitly apologizes, mentioning that he hopes the court-martial will be fair. General Hammond then invokes this trope, coming up with a (arguably solid) excuse for why they're not in trouble. This is basically what happens all the time.
  • Star Trek; in general, roughly 90% of Prime Directive violations fall under this Trope. Specific examples:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series
      • Episode "Amok Time". Kirk violates Starfleet orders by returning Spock to Vulcan to save his life.
      • Episode "Balance of Terror". Kirk violates "inviolable" Starfleet orders not to enter the Romulan Neutral Zone because he feels the invading ship must be destroyed to avert a war.
      • Episode "The Menagerie", Spock risks the death penalty to return Captain Pike to Talos IV.
      • Pretty much any time the Prime Directive is mentioned in an episode, Kirk will wind up going against it to save the ship or the planet.
      • Averted in "Wolf In the Fold", when Kirk explicitly refuses the suggestion that he help Scotty escape the planet on which he had been charged with murder. While he does his best to, and eventually does, get Scotty cleared of murder, Kirk says that he'll allow Scotty to be jailed and executed if he's found guilty even if Kirk believes him innocent. Why? Because the planet is a strategically vital port, and helping Scotty escape its justice would sour them against the Federation.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation
      • Episode "Suspicions" does this twice for Dr. Crusher. The first time, against the wishes of the family, she performs an autopsy on a scientist who she believes died due to foul play. In a subversion, the autopsy turns up nothing suspect and she's relieved of her position. Played straight the second time, when she steals a shuttlecraft and flies into a star to confirm her suspicions.
      • "The Wounded" features a Knight Templar version: Captain Maxwell believes the Cardassians are preparing for war, but Starfleet won't listen, so he goes rogue and starts destroying ostensibly peaceful (and definitely defenseless) Cardassian ships and outposts. Turns out he wasn't completely bonkers, but he was definitely jumping the gun and gets hit hard for it.
      • Partial subversion: Another episode finds Data in temporary command of another starship as part of a scratch fleet seeking evidence that the Romulans are violating the Neutral Zone, and goes against Captain Picard's orders in order to achieve the mission objective. When subsequently debriefed he offers his apologies, whereupon Captain Picard points out that a Starfleet captain is not only authorised but expected to countermand orders if they have reason to believe the safety of their ship demands it, though presumably they would need a very compelling explanation when they got back to port, which Data had in spades. (Actually Truth in Television for many navies.)
      • In "The Pegasus", Picard mentions he picked Riker as his first officer because of an incident where Riker didn't allow one of his previous captains to beam down. Picard was impressed by Riker challenging a captain's authority for the safety of the captain and the ship's crew.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
      • In "Time's Orphan", security guards stop Miles and Keiko O'Brien from stealing a Runabout in a desperate bid to save their daughter Molly. Odo waves the guards aside, comments that O'Brien should have done a better job of sneaking onto the hanger, and allows them to take the Runabout.
    • Star Trek: Voyager
      • In "Thirty Days", Tom Paris screws the Prime Directive to try to save an ocean planet that was slowly being destroyed by an oxygen mining operation. He gets a demotion and thirty days in the brig for his effort.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise
      • In "Cogenitor," Trip disobeys the Captain and befriends an alien belonging to that race's mistreated minority, a third gender. He shows her things she's never seen before, but eventually the Enterprise has to leave, and the alien commits suicide.
  • Neal does this frequently on White Collar. If doing what he knows is right means breaking a few rules, he's all for it.
  • Firefly is full of this. The most notable examples are Simon rescuing River, and Mal sheltering them. Then again, Mal's crew are smugglers, among other things, so it's not like they were keen on obeying the law in the first place.
    • This is basically Mal's world view. He doesn't care if it's going to get him killed or if it's against the law, he does what he feels is right.

Mrs. Burgess: My husband makes a distinction between legality and morality.
Mal Reynolds: You know, I've said that myself, on occasion.

  • Pretty much any cop show will have characters deciding this, going against their own bosses, other agencies, ignoring diplomatic rules, etc. so convinced are they that trying to solve a murder justifies doing anything they want. Bones averted it pretty surprisingly when Booth told the team he would not screw the rules to bust a suspect with diplomatic immunity because of the consequences far beyond their murder investigation.
  • It seems like every episode of 24 involves Jack Bauer violating security protocol/administrative policy/ethical behavior/the Geneva Convention in order to "do what has to be done". He rarely pays for his actions.
    • The same cannot be said of almost anyone else on 24, such as Gen. Brucker, who was arrested and considered a traitor because he defied Presidential orders and surrendered IRK President Hassan to a terrorist cell, saving thousands of innocent people from a dirty bomb attack.
    • Jack Bauer ended up spending several years in a Chinese camp being tortured, so... He's probably paid for it.
      • And pretty much anyone he ever cares about dies a violent death or turns out to be a traitor. He also gets fired, arrested, and otherwise punished repeatedly. While he may not always suffer long-term punishments, he surely doesn't gain much.
  • Dr. House so often breaks the rules and protocols that his Dean of Medicine every year prepares thousands of dollars just in case he does something that would require a lawyer's help.
    • Slightly subverted after Foreman breaks protocols at a different hospital to save a patient. The patient lives, but Foreman gets fired almost immediately and is blacklisted by pretty much every other hospital apart from Princeton-Plainsboro, to where he's forced to return.
  • Frequently employed by ER's Dr. Ross, to the point where it's his downfall.
  • Castiel does this in Supernatural. Angels aren't supposed to defy their superiors, but he ends up hunted and losing his abilities because he decides to help Sam and Dean send Lucifer back to Hell. The other angels want Lucifer to destroy the world because they want Paradise.
  • Boston Legal has one instance that stands out, though it's slightly less this trope and a little more of a threat to invoke the trope: Alan Shore is defending an old acquaintance accused of murdering her fiancé literally moments before their courthouse wedding. But when it's revealed that the bride switched identities with a close friend years back, and claims that said friend is the real murderer, Alan finds proof that said friend came the bride a year ago and wanted to go back to her real identity. The bride then killed her, and later murdered her fiancé as well. Alan followed up with this: "The only reason you're not sprawled on the floor under a bailiff with handcuffs is because of attorney-client privilege, and, frankly, I don't need this (case) that much. I've done a lot of talking over the years. I'm tired. I'm rich. Take the (plea bargain, 12 years for manslaughter) or I'll walk through that door. I'll get disbarred. And I'll put you away for life. Double first-degree. It'll be life. Until the end of your life."
    • Alan Shore does this a lot. When he considers a client to be morally in the right, he has gone so far as to blackmail the opposing party into settlements. He even once pointedly did not advise a client to flee the country when the case was hopeless, but the cause just.
  • On The Practice, the firm represented a client in a hit-and-run accident. The client's doctor discovered on the plaintiff's medical charts that he had an aneurysm (which his own doctors missed) that would kill him if it wasn't treated. The client refuses to allow the firm to disclose this information. Jimmy Berluti defies attorney-client privilege to tell the boy and his mother of his condition, enabling the doctors to save his life and earning Jimmy a minor judicial censure.
  • Doogie Howser, M.D.: Doogie secretly operates on a desperate young boy's injured dog despite hospital regulations. When caught, he fights back, saying that he was only trying to do something kind and humane (“something I see far too little of around here.”).
    • Another episode has Doogie giving his 16-year-old girlfriend Wanda a pelvic examination and performing an emergency appendectomy on her his despite the rule that she needed parental consent. Doogie states that because it was a life-threatening situation, “under the same circumstances I’d do it again.”
  • Every episode of Leverage is about the team breaking hundreds of laws to help someone who's been screwed over by the (usually loophole abusing law-abiding) rich and powerful.
  • Babylon 5 sees this happen quite a bit, as both Sinclair and Sheridan are liable to violate commands from Earthforce (usually through Loophole Abuse) to do what they feel is right. The possibly greatest example is from the episode "Believers", when Doctor Franklin disobeys a direct order from Sinclair to save a child from a disease that the child's parents won't let him cure for religious reasons.
    • Said parents find out about the surgery and kill their child, believing that the soul has left the body.
    • Delenn breaking the Grey Council with a royal display of Awesomeness.
    • As was Sheridan's speech (in the same episode) declaring the station's secession from the Earth Alliance because of Earth's recent atrocities. He basically lays the cards on the table and tells anyone who doesn't want to go along would be free to leave but that Babylon 5 was not playing by Earth's rules anymore.
    • It's hard to name a character on the show who doesn't do this at least once. Full credit must go to Garibaldi, however. Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right is practically his personal mantra.
  • In the first season finale of Nikita, Nikita is captured by the CIA - who believe her to be responsible for the attempted assassination of the CIA's director - and she is only saved when her ally, CIA agent Ryan Fletcher, takes a serious level in badass and holds the director of the CIA at gunpoint, despite knowing he'll be sent to prison for it (possibly for life).
  • Pan Am has Colette bringing the Haitian refugee on board despite regulations, and Kate helping her fellow courier escape Berlin despite orders to the contrary.
  • The fourth season finale of Chuck has our eponymous hero going against the CIA in order to get a chance to find a cure for a poisoned Sarah, who was struck down with a virus inflicted on her by the Big Bad.
  • One of the defining characteristics of Jimmy McNulty of The Wire. Also shown with Bunny Colvin and Lester Freamon. They all pay for it.
  • This is more or less the key trait of Karl "Helo" Agathon from the Battlestar Galactica reboot. He's the guy who always does the right thing, no matter what price he has to pay, (in the show's pilot he willing dooms himself to die so that an Omnidisciplinary Scientist can have the last seat off a nuked world) or how hopeless a situation it puts him into. And considering just how badly most members of the human fleet compromise their beliefs or abuse their power, there are times when Helo seems to be the only one with a conscience or sanity.
    • In one memorable case, he disobeyed his commanding officers to prevent genocide... of a race of androids bent on annihilating the human race. YMMV whether this crosses into Honor Before Reason territory.
  • The Body of the Week on one episode of Law and Order Special Victims Unit was a Serbian war criminal who was spotted by two of his former victims, who murdered him. Benson and Stabler arrange things so that the killers get away with a light prison term. The boss chews them out; Benson explains it as "I think we did the only thing that's going to allow me to sleep tonight."
  • NCIS: Los Angeles'Template:"s Season 3 Finale had G. Cullen killing "The Chameleon" for his murders of Agents Roarke and Hunter, as well as several other people, even when he was ordered to surrender him to the Iranian officials in exchange for the American agent that was held hostage. He is promptly arrested by the LAPD afterwards. He also suspected that he had the Iranians transfer the money via American channels specifically to get the Sadistic Choice to force him to go free, a suspicion that was revealed to have been well-founded.
  • This line is used almost exactly in Criminal Minds episode "Amplification".

Emily: Screw protocol; Reid's in trouble.

Oral Tradition, Folklore, Myths and Legends

  • In Jewish Law, there is a concept called "Pikuach Nefesh" which gives explicit permission to violate almost any Jewish Law to save someone's life (excluding murdering an innocent, idol-worship or sexual immorality). Yes, there is a rule telling you to screw the rules.
    • Rabbi Hillel told of a man who found a man freezing to death on the Sabbath and lit a fire to save his life, then told off his pious friends when they criticized him for breaking the Sabbath. The intense similarity between this story and the tale of the Good Samaritan told by Hillel's near-contemporary Jesus should not be overlooked.
      • Indeed. A significant part of what is recorded of Jesus' teachings is that it's not possible to follow all the rules all the time and still be doing the right thing, and therefore it's not possible to earn salvation by trying to.
    • In one Biblical story, Elijah challenges the priests of Baal to a contest by having each side build an altar and seeing which gets a bigger divine response. (Elijah wins, natch.) The Talmud notes that this technically violated the Jewish law that no sacrifices should be done away from the Temple after its construction, but that Elijah received special divine permission so that God could prove His point. (Since Elijah lived in the Northern Kingdom it was impossible for him to get to the Temple without being killed.)
  • Similar to the Jewish rules, Islam also has exceptions in order to save someone, including oneself. For instance, eating pork is perfectly acceptable if no other food is available in an emergency. Human is not actually on the list of food prohibitions, in dire situations (though if you murder someone to eat them because you're starving, you are on the bad list). Various denominations of Christianity also permit this in dire situations (the human thing, not the pork, because pork is not a prohibited food for most Christians).

Video Games

  • This is both Commander Shepard and Garrus in Mass Effect.
    • In the sequel Garrus has embraced this. It acts to an extent as a subversion. He pisses off every gang on the station, gets his team killed, an in the end realizes he didn't make any kind of appreciable difference.
      • It was fun, though.
      • The people of Omega seem to think he made a difference. The Archangel name wasn't his idea.
      • The families of his team also seemed to support Garrus's actions, one in particular telling him not to blame himself for her husband's death because he died doing what was right.
    • Whether Shepard's Paragon or Renegade, s/he will steal the Normandy after it's locked down by the Council in order to stop the Reapers.
    • In the sequel, s/he's willing-ish to side with Cerberus, a human supremacist organization, because they're the only ones willing to help him/her against the Reapers.
    • The Paragon end to Mass Effect 2 is this when you opt to destroy the Collector base, even though it could be beneficial in the future, stating "We'll fight and win without it, I won't let fear compromise who I am.
    • It comes up again in Mass Effect 3 with the salarian STG. If Kirrahe is alive, he'll promise the unwavering support of the STG regardless of politics, even if the Dalatrass calls off salarian support for helping cure the genophage.
  • Army of Two. Overlaps with Screw The Money, their Mission Control asks them if they want to let the authorities handle it legally, but they decline as they know the Big Bad is currently in the process of killing witnesses and destroying evidence inside the HQ.
  • BioWare pulled an arguable double subversion in the backstory of Knights of the Old Republic. The Republic was getting hammered by a Mandalorian invasion and the Jedi were staying out of it because they sensed a threat behind the Mandalorians. While Revan and Malak's intervention likely saved the Republic, it got them Drunk on the Dark Side, caused them to try and destroy the Republic in order to "save" it, and turned the Jedi Order into shreds. The double subversion hits when you realize that the Council was right in detecting a threat behind the Mandalorians, even if their approach probably wouldn't have turned out any better than Revan's.
  • Another one of their subversions was in Jade Empire. The Brothers Sun were violating the laws of heaven in their assault on Dirge, committing genocide on the monks, and crossing the Moral Event Horizon in too many ways to count. Still, they thought it was the only way to stop the drought that was killing thousands and left the empire on the verge of collapse.
  • Ace Attorney Investigations has this with the Yatagarasu, two attorneys and a detective who resorted to finding evidence of crime through theft when the law wouldn't reach far enough for them. This becomes a mirrored dilemma for Edgeworth late in the game, when he must decide whether to use Badd's stolen evidence against Alba, since legally it can't be used at all.
  • Final Fantasy X has this when Yuna and company decide to try and defeat Sin without using the Final Aeon.
  • Ramza's entire story throughout all of Final Fantasy Tactics.
  • A major theme in Tales of Vesperia. The protagonist, Yuri Lowell, believes that if a law prohibits doing what's right, said law should be ignored. His friend Flynn, however, argues that vigilantism cannot bring peace, and that if a law is corrupted then it needs to be changed. The game is rather good at avoiding taking sides in this, with both characters getting their share of trouble when they take their ideologies to the extreme.
  • "If you can't do something smart, do something right." may have been said by Jayne, but Space Quest games tended to base themselves on the idea. Break into a heavily-fortified, but legally-operating, sweatshop software company and free some programmers from the Corrupt Corporate Executive? Sure, that was game 3. The Designated Hero of Starcon has ordered that you stick to collecting trash and not look into the suspicious dumping of toxic waste? Screw it, the Eureka is going to look. Ordered in game 6 to ignore the highly suspicious death of a close friend by a prominent admiral's widow who tried to kill you in the process? The quote was "Bite me, Commander."
  • The entire last half of Modern Warfare 2 has Soap and Price going after Shepherd to kill him in revenge for his betrayal, even if the world paints both of them as international terrorists.
  • Star Trek Elite Force. Munro, ignoring Tuvok's orders to return.
  • In Fallout, the Brotherhood of steel are rather strict about who they let join, and who they let keep technology more advanced than a flashlight. However, in Fallout3, we have Elder Lyons, who, when he and his chapter arrived in the Capitol Wasteland, looked around at how bad things are and basically said "Screw the Codex!" Now the DC Chapter of the Brotherhood goes around as something like a post-apocalyptic Chivalric Knighthood, dedicating to helping the downtrodden of the area, and working with them to make things better.
    • In Fallout: New Vegas, Veronica can try something similar where she leaves the Brotherhood to join the Followers of the Apocalypse. This ends poorly, both for the Followers and Veronica.
  • In Kingdom Hearts, Donald and Goofy reluctantly follow Riku when he wrests control of the Keyblade from Sora, since they were told to stay with the Keyblade holder. They quickly changed their minds and stood beside Sora when Riku, a\at this time posessed by Ansem ( or rather Xehonort claiming to be Ansem) attempted to kill Sora.
    • In Kingdom Hearts II, during the siege of Hollow Bastion, King Mickey ordered Sora, Donald and Goofy to escape so they could find Riku and Kairi. Sora protested, but Donald told him, "You heard what the King said." They then plunged into the thick of the battle, thinning it out considerably. Mickey let it slide.
  • In Diablo III, Tyrael refused go along with his fellow Angels' non-interference policies. When his superior Imperius tried to punish him for it, Tyrael finally had enough and tore off his own wings so he could help Sanctuary as a mortal.

Web Comics

  • Lord Shojo of The Order of the Stick felt the restrictions on the Oaths that prevented them from seeking out the other Gates were too restrictive, especially since two Gates were destroyed within the last 20 years. However, his plans all involved disregarding his Oaths, going behind the backs of his paladins, and contacting foreign mercenaries. While Shojo is portrayed sympathetically, Rich points out that Shojo never considered trying to convince the paladins that the Oaths were outdated (plus, one of the locations was heavily booby trapped in case Soon or his followers decided to do this, the trapper believing this trope in the hands of paladins would only be a self-righteous justification).
    • Miko actually said the phrase "The laws have no meaning... Only honor and the will of the gods matter now". Granted, it turned out that she was doing the wrong, incredibly stupid thing, but she was convinced that killing Lord Shojo was the right and necessary thing to do.
  • Domain Tnemrot has Angel helping Dae after his fight, even though she's not allowed in the ring and is almost killed for it.
  • The Mayor's assistant in Freefall deliberately goes against the Mayor's decisions to help Florence stop Gardener in the Dark, noting that there are some things worth risking your internship for.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Iron Man: Armored Adventures: In the episode "Fun with Laser", Iron Man goes against Nick Fury's order to stop the Living Laser and save the SHIELD space station after Nick's first plan fails spectacularly.
    • Pretty much Pepper's reason for every plan of hers, despite some plans including destroying the enemy's entire company.
  • In one episode of Popeye And Son, Popeye and his son are in a father/son contest, and one of the rules forbids the use of spinach. They end up breaking this rule when they have to save Wimpy and his nephew.
  • In the Family Guy episode "Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q.", police officer Joe was ititially against Quagmire's suggestion that they kill his sister's abusive boyfriend since it sould be murder. But when he witnesses the abuse for himself, his response is...
    • And in "Thanksgiving", a flashback shows Joe chasing a homeless man who stole some food, but he lets the guy off the hook when he see he stole it to feed his starving family.

Real Life

  • Gandhi's brand of civil resistance is built around this trope. It's OK to break the rules as long as you do it non-violently, the rule is unjust, and are willing to accept the consequences.
    • Likewise, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • His Majesty made you a Major because he expected you to know when NOT to follow orders.
    • To clarify: A Prussian Major once made a critical mistake and found himself called on the carpet before none other than a Prince. He argued that he had only been following orders, to which the Prince retorted with the above.
  • In the US military, you can get away with breaking the rules to do the right thing provided that you have a legitimate excuse and someone in a position of authority believes you. Similarly, direct orders must be lawful in order to be considered valid.
    • In addition, obeying an order you know damned well to be unlawful makes you a willing accessory to the crimes of the superior who issued said illegal order. Oh, and if they say, "Don't worry, if we get busted, I'll take full responsibility." Two words: "Bull" and "Shit." Odds are they'll find a way to get off with a slap on the wrist and you'll be hung out to dry.
      • That's actually international law, considering crimes against humanity. If an officer orders an underling to commit genocide, shoot civilians, destroy civilian infrastructure, etc, it is the underling's legal right and actual duty to refuse said illegal order. If they follow the order, they can and will be judged for those crimes, and "I was just following orders" is explicitly stated to not excuse the actions in a subsequent tribunal.
      • Just ask any of the guys who were up in front of the Nuremburg Tribunal.
  • The US Navy's submarine service has a phrase for this, "Bust me on the surface," invoked in seriousness when a crew member believes that a superior's orders directly endanger the boat. Rarely invoked, and the subordinate had better be right. Invoked more sarcastically (and more frequently) when a crew member ignores written procedure in favor of a more familiar but unwritten procedure.
  • The entire Civil Rights Movement was an example of people screwing the rules in favor of what was right.
  • So was the Suffragette Movement.
    • Yes and no. The Suffragette Movement actually excluded a lot of women, particularly women of color and poor women.
      • That's debatable. The Suffragette Movement was headed by white women who were also working toward black people's rights. It wasn't until the Fourteenth Amendment was put on the table, which would give only black men the right to vote, that some of the women demanding rights felt slighted. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in particular, got upset enough to start using racist language at that point. (Though, for the time period, it wouldn't have been considered quite as racist as by today's standards.) So it was less that the Suffragette Movement was full of racists and more that the women and blacks were working together before the women felt betrayed and left behind.
  • In general, the principle of necessity: an action that would otherwise be criminal is legally justified if it's the only way to prevent an even worse harm.
    • For example, in several states it is legal to cause grievous bodily harm to another person, or even kill them, if they threaten you in your home, car, or in public. This is called, appropriately, the Make My Day law. (If you DO kill the suspect, however, you'll need to prove he meant to kill you, in most cases.)
      • Actually, be careful with this. In many states, self-defense is only valid if you felt that your or someone else's life was at stake. And even then, you have to be reasonable with it (i.e., you can't chase the perpetrator down five blocks to finish the job)
    • It's legal to escape from prison! If you can prove that you did so because you were going to be killed and escape was the only way to avoid it. Also, you have to go right back when your life is no longer in danger.
  • Most drivers will tell you that you should run red lights and exceed the limit if it meant that you wouldn't get rear-ended by the idiot behind you. (At least in America, where you'll never have to worry about retaking a driver's test to prove you know the rules, and where nothing short of a DUI will get your license confiscated.)
    • Most drivers will do this, though the DMV-recommended procedure is to ease your foot off the accelerator, giving the tailgater a signal to pass you (if that's legal at that spot) or giving both you and the other driver more reaction time (if it isn't).
    • Generally speaking, the US and Canada driving laws break down to the following: you are responsible for what's in front of you. If you get rear-ended, it's not your fault. If you get rear-ended and that results in you smashing into the guy in front of you, then it's your fault (you were too close). If you have to violate a minor law to prevent a major accident, you can (usually) get away with it, as long as the cop believes you.
      • Know your state. Illinois, for example, has no such preference. You can, and will, be ticketed for driving too slowly/unsafely if you cause an accident by breaking rapidly/unexpectedly.
    • You are also required to run red lights, make illegal left turns, etc, if such things are necessary to get out of the way of an ambulance or fire truck.
      • Again, this is specific to certain locations. In the UK it is never legal to run a red light.
      • Likewise in Australia. You cannot out-and-out break a road rule even with an emergency vehicle bearing down on you. Traffic going the other way might stop and you can then go on a non-traffic-light turn, but emergency vehicles prefer that they make the illegal maneuvers around you. Mostly because they are the ones equipped with big flashing lights and loud whooping noises.
    • You can also get away with it if you're taking a medical emergency case to a hospital, yourself. The chances are that any police officer who might stop you will escort you for the rest of the way once you explain the situation.
      • Especially after a major fiasco, where a man's wife died of a heart attack because the police officer didn't believe him.
    • All that said, it's better to obey at least the speed limits unless utterly impossible: firefighters, for instance, can and have been charged for speeding when trying to get to the station to answer a call, or responding directly to a fire.
  • In Kohlberg's six stages of moral development, this attitude is last and highest of them, referred to as Universal Ethics. A person who has reached this stage will follow laws as long as they allow for justice. To a stage six, an unjust law is an invalid law, and has no hold over their decision making. Kohlberg himself found individuals who had both reached and maintained this stage were very rare, and that generally stage six behaviors would mostly be found in stage five (Social Contract) individuals for a short period of time.
  • After the Charge of the Light Brigade, Lord Raglan, who'd given the original unclear order, chewed out Lord Lucan, who commanded the Cavalry Division (including the Light Brigade), for following it when he could see there was something wrong about the instructions.[1] Similar to the Prussian major example above, Raglan said, "Lord Lucan, you were a lieutenant-general and should therefore have exercised your discretion, and not approving of the charge, should not have caused it to be made!"
    • Which, of course, completely ignored the fact that the LAST few times Lucan had used his discretion (to pursue the enemy when they were fleeing, the whole purpose of cavalry), Raglan had bawled him out at length and threatened to send him home in disgrace. Lucan was also one of TWO generals in the entire expeditionary force who had seen combat since the Napoleonic Wars. It showed.
  • Australian independant Senator Nick Xenophon is frequently associated with this attitude, making him a rather divisive figure. The main point of contention is his unorthodox use of parliamentary privilege (a shield against defamation suits) for the purpose of whistleblowing.
  • On September 26, 1983 Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov deviated from standard protocol when he correctly identified a missile attack warning as a false alarm, preventing an erroneous retaliatory strike against the United States and other western targets that could have started World War III.
  • Despite assisted suicide being illegal in Britain, the Crown Prosecution Service (roughly equivalent to a US District Attourney but with jurisdiction throughout England and Wales) has flatly refused to pursue homicide charges if they're satisfied that the "perpetrator" was acting with the informed consent of the deceased.
  • When hormonal birth control was illegal for contraceptive use but could be prescribed for things such as heavy periods (that's just one example) some doctors would prescribe it under one of the acceptable reasons, knowing full well the woman intended to use it as a contraceptive. On a more controversial note, Dr. George Tiller and his father, Dr. Dean Jackson "Jack" Tiller, are considered by many to have invoked this trope by performing abortions on women desperately seeking a safe termination of her pregnancy despite the laws (it was illegal when the elder Tiller did them, and his son was put on trial on several different charges but found not guilty of all charges).
  • Everyone who hid or otherwise helped Jews during World War II.
    • Only in Third Reich. Rules imposed by occupants, especially those who do not have legitimate casus belli are by definition illegal and citizens of an occupied country are even expected to break them whenever possible.
  • This seems to be the expressed attitude of War Resister Supporters. Of course, YMMV on whether or not it's morally justified...
  • The Pristina International Airport incident after the Kosovo war would have escalated into World War III if it wasn't a for a defiance of an order. American NATO commander Wesley Clark, ordered NATO paratroopers to storm into the airport and overpower the Russians. James Blunt, the commanding British officer of the platoon who later became a singer, questioned this order and decided not to carry it out. His decision was backed by his superior, General Mike Jackson, and instead had the paratroopers surround outside of the airport, as Jackson reportedly said to Clark, "I'm not going to start the Third World War for you."
  • Wikipedia has a strict rule enforcing a neutral point of view. However, it also has an "Ignore All Rules" policy: "If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it." So on January 18, 2012, they blocked out their site to protest SOPA and PIPA. A violation of their neutral point of view policy, but they did it to spread awareness of SOPA & PIPA, and gave links to where you could find information and contact people in Congress.
    • Here is a mirror of the blackout page that greeted visitors to Wikipedia from the US.
    • This was not a first time.
    • Your Mileage May Vary on whether it's justified, but consider that a closed internet (as proposed by these laws) could adversely affect access to and the existence of Wikipedia.[2]
    • Wikipedia actually explained WHY they were breaking their neutrality clause with these powerful words: "While Wikipedia is neutral, its existence is not."
  • Title 14 United States Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.3(b) "In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency." Means that the pilot can throw out the rulebook to save their aircraft.
  1. Sending cavalry charging directly into a three-sided crossfire, which wasn't what Raglan had meant them to do
  2. I tried my best to be neutral