Monday, March 27, 2006
When the law gets out of control.
One of the worst things a Government can do to it's population is inflict bad laws on them. Bad laws are those that are constructed in a hurry, usually to cope with an immediate furore in ther newspapers, that are badly drafted so that they suffer unintended consequences.
Good recent examples abound, mainly because since the mid 1990's we have had Governments operating solely on what the Daily Mail gets in a tizzy about.
Laws get completely out of control because over-zealous officials in councils, the Crown Prosecution Service and Police authorities up and down the land 'over interpret' them, just to be on the safe side; with bizarre and often quite laughable consequences.
So we have had people getting given Asbo's for growing trees too high, for example. Or an eighty year old heckler at the Labour Conference being arrested under the Anti-terrorism Act; or even -as happened in Torbay last week- a drug dealer being paid £1750 'compensation' by the council.
This was brought home to me on Saturday.
I took my daughter and some friends ice-skating in Plymouth at the weekend for her eleventh birthday treat. In the restaurant afterwards I took a photo with Karens mobile phone of the group as they cut her birthday cake.
"You can't do that, it's illegal" - the young lady in charge rushed over to tell me.
Do what? I thought. Could she might mean that we couldn't have a birthday party? Cut the cake (maybe the knife breached health and safety rules)?
Nope. It's 'illegal' to take photographs of children in public places' like Schools and the Skating Rink restaurant, she told me, "due to the new Childrens Act".
Now I know that she is wrong about the law; although because the management are perfectly at liberty to ban photography if they want to I obediently put the phone away.
The supposed ban on photographing kids in school plays and the like was nothing to do with the Childrens act but came about by most education authorities fretting about the Data Protection act of 1998 and also the Human Rights Act. New Government guidelines eventually had to be issued in 2005 making clear that such bans were wholly unneccessary; basically to no avail - most schools still ban parents filming or photographing school events.
There is a new Childrens Act, passed last year, but this deals mainly with care services and requirements and is, according to the DfES "to cover the universal services which every child accesses, and more targeted services for those with additional needs." It doesn't bar parents photographing their family and friends.
But the point is the management have 'erred on the side of caution' and banned a perfectly harmless activity in spite of the fact that they don't have to.
Under such a climate of fear, what school, village hall or museum is going to feature lectures or exhibitions about Lawrence of Arabia or the French Resistance (to give two examples) if we have a law that bans the 'glorification of terrorism'?
MP's have a duty to properly anticipate the potential side-effects of every law they pass which sadly they are failing to do effectively.