Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The real problem

One of the most disturbing aspects of this Government is its remarkable propensity to legislate at the drop of a hat. There are now some six co-existing Bills that criminalise carrying knives and consecutive Home Secretaries seem to believe that all that is needed to reduce crime is another one. Added to this is an even worse problem - the remarkable incompetent way in which these bills are drafted. Historically drafters were paid by the line - with unfortunate results as seen in the infamous Prescription Act (you really don't want to know). However, the current problem is less a tendency towards the prolix than a general lack of ability.

The Act prohibiting 'demonstrations' within '1 kilometre' of the Palace if Westminster is a clear case in point. 'Demonstration' is left undefined leaving the diverting possibility that a Maths teacher could be criminalised in Westminster School for demonstrating Pythagoras' theory; Kilometres are not a traditional form of measurement in UK legislation and are not used to describe areas of control. Even more derisory is the fact that this Act was designed to catch one specific demonstration - and has failed to do so through its vague wording and focus on 'organisation' of a demonstration.

The Act proposed to criminalise the 'glorification' of 'terrorists' is another case in point. Neither of the quoted terms are defined. What do you mean by 'glorify'? What do you mean by 'terrorist'? With legislation the elephant defense (I can't define it but I know it when I see it) is inadequate. Certainty in the law is the most important aspect of a well-governed society. In Britain, unlike Europe, our laws are interpreted as literally as possible. If a law says something, you can be reasonably certain that it means it. There are cases where this principle is stretched (see any judgment by Lord Denning to see what I mean) but it remains. In Europe the 'teleological' approach is in favour, where the motivations behind the law are considered more important than its literal words. This has led to an atmosphere of considerable uncertainty, with no-one being able to say for certain what any new law actually says until it has come up before the court.

Until the Government is able to say definitively what is meant by glorification and terrorist this Act should be resisted vigorously. This definition cannot be satisfactorily passed off by example as it always seems to be when defended by Charles Clarke.

UPDATE: I am reminded that it is, of course, Pythagoras' theorem, not theory. I'm just relieved this was picked up before the P-G noticed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent blog. One small, beside the point, quibble. It's Pythagoras' theorem.

3:50 pm  
Blogger The Pedant-General said...

Tim J,

No problem at all. What I find interesting is the noticeable increase in the general level of pedantry in evidence in the UK backwaters of the blogosphere.

I'm sure Lynne Truss would be proud.

Besides, it can only be a matter of time before the teaching of rigorous and unforgiveable disciplines such as mathematics becomes a terrorist offence.....

Toodle Pip!

9:45 am  

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