Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Unintended Consequences of the Law

or The Law of Unintended Consequences.

The legislatures of both the United Kingdom and the United States are currently being pressured into making new laws, or amending existing laws, with little debate, and even less understanding of the results of that legislation. The British Parliament is sitting for shorter times than ever, more debates are held with time limits than under any previous government. In the USA the new President’s administration is pushing new legislation with gay abandon, either in a fit of panic or, at the risk of sounding paranoid, in an attempt to push through the hard-left agenda he denied during campaigning.

We might laugh at the United States House of Representatives reaching the farcical level that those voting on the bill are not expected to read it (in fact the House Majority leader laughed at the idea that many would read it, and said that if only members who had pledged to read it first voted they “…would have very few votes”). Unfortunately in the UK our own House of Commons did not simply vote on passing control of 17% of the economy without having read the legislation. We ceded our entire constitution, ultimate control of every government decision and therefore of our lives through a treaty that was deliberately written to be unreadable.

There will be unintended consequences to this. New Labour has introduced unprecedented change. This includes creating criminal offences at an astonishing, rate, in a way that is utterly unfathomable. At times the rate of creation of new offences has been greater than one a day, the total topped 3000 long ago. Obviously this must criminalise some behaviour unnecessarily, because there was no huge clamour for these laws, there were not 3000 burning problems that needed solving. Worse than that, with so much legislation introduced with so little scrutiny some of the results of that legislation will be not as those voting for it intended.

For example under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 the police have greater power to stop and search in an area designated as a likely target. However the whole of London has been so designated since the law came into force. This is still the case despite criticism of the use of this power, including a report by the Metropolitan Police Authority two years ago.

When police are stopping people under the same Section of the Act for photographing famous buildings in London it looks like farce. However combined with the 2008 Act which appears to make it an offence to photograph a police officer, if the officer so decides, than sinister is perhaps a more apt adjective. If this sort of advice has to be given to the public and to police then the law is ill-written, and should be repealed until it can be remade. The link also describes incidents where the police abuse the Act.

There are far more cases. Anti-corruption legislation with unintended consequences for parish councils; pensions legislation that drove up costs; liquidity rules that drove down the value of pension and insurance holdings; the human rights act giving convicted criminals rights (especially to privacy) that they just should not have.

Of course even legislation that has been discussed at great length has unintended consequences. Anti-hunting bills have famously took up far more parliamentary time than they warrant, yet still the foxes suffer more since the ban than they did before, surely not the intent of the legislation.

There is one thing in common, and that is certainty. Governments that are certain they have right on their side, and that their legislation is well-drafted see no reason to debate at length. Anti-hunting campaigners were certain that they were right, so did not listen when told by the people who actually knew what they were talking about (few anti-hunt campaigners can shoot) that foxes would suffer. Suffer they did, for the arrogance of their advocates. Certainty means either that no debate is allowed (look at climate change) or that those who are certain do not listen to the other side of the debate (look at climate change).

That is why I have My Doubts.

Hat tips to Instapundit and Newsalert for the US House of Representatives story.

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Fausty said...

What also of unstated intended consequences?

So often, this government has drafted laws which are intended to be the thin end of the wedge - precursors to laws which most of us would find less acceptable.

The Lisbon Treaty is a hideous example of this. It is far, far worse that it seems. It has huge reach and if that weren't bad enough - it's self-amending.

This vile government has been relentlessly tweaking, ever so subtly - so as to to avoid alarming bonehead MPs - clauses of seemingly straightforward laws. Many MPs have no clue as to the potential fallout of laws they so mindlessly vote into existence.

This government has been creating, quiet as a mouse, the framework for a fascist state. Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty will bring the fascist state to life.

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