If we have an "understanding", then we don't have a justice system based on law. We have one based on men and women in power.Yeah, that's one way to look at it. Still, it is a good observation and one that we don't talk about much.
The simple truth is that the law is just a set of rules that govern how people interact in society. Those laws are set by the legislature and are interpreted by the Courts. Sometimes legitimate questions arise that are not answered by the legislature or the Courts.
The law is often replete with terms of art that aren't familiar to the person on the street. The law sometimes has clauses in it that affect other laws and laws enacted this year may conflict with laws passed last year. It's confusing sometimes. The men and women in power have to come to some sort of conclusion about what the law means, and then have to disseminate to their subordinates how a particular law affects the way those subordinates do their jobs.
When a law is passed that conflicts with another, then the various power players will ask the Attorney General for an opinion. These opinions are generally very specific in scope and detailed in application, but an opinion may raise other questions that need to be resolved. In dealing with a layered bureaucracy this takes time and the people on the street need to know how to deal with the issue of law.
Many times an issue will affect more than one agency. For example, if a law is passed that says that in domestic battery cases, the children have to be counseled, then the law affects not only the arresting agency, but the social service agencies too. In that case, the law enforcement agency might sit down with the social service agency and come to an understanding about any number of things, like phone numbers for 3:00 a.m. and who is going to respond to pick up the kids. This is just one hypothetical example.
Another example might be a change in the wildlife law that affects more than one agency. The Wildlife boys might call a meeting with the Sheriff and the City to work out an understanding about how a specific problem will be handled.
These meetings normally result in something called A Memorandum of Understanding that details a particular agency's position on a given issue. Understandings change over time, as the law changes or agencies change. It isn't anything sinister, it's just a logical response to confusing legislative mandates. It's all about getting the job done to the best of everyone's understanding.
I agree it may not be the best way to resolve issues, but it is a workable solution to what sometimes seems an insurmountable problem. It certainly isn't anything sinister.