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.


Anonymous said...

The photo is very witty but will Tories know who Dirty Harry is I wonder?

Anonymous said...

Just popped over here in response to your plug on Mike Smithson's excellent site...

I've long thought that Blair incorporated the EHCR into domestic law so that he could pass whatever tom-fool populist legislation he liked in the knowledge that the judges would strike it down, and he could say it wasn't his fault. Why any future Prime Minister of any party would want to give up this advantage I've no idea.

Barrie Wood said...

Good grief I pretty much agree with everything you've written here ! What a sad state of affairs when you can't take pics at your daughter's birthday bash !

Whilst on the subject of ethics, values and freedoms I note Marcus, you've carefully avoided commenting on the 'Live by the Rules' campaign by the local paper. What is your view ? Are you saying nothing in order to 'keep in' with the H.E. ?

MatGB said...

Pretty much agree with Barrie, when ardent lefties like us can agree with every word a Tory spokesman says, we know the Govt of the day is going wrong.

Not sure about Innocent Abroad's opinion on HRA, I think Blair passed it when idealist, before the system got to him.

Anonymous said...

The proliferation of bad laws destroys respect for the law. The more unjust, arbitrary and irrational the law seems, the more willing the average citizen will be to break it. That is particularly so when the bad laws are so poorly drafted and so broadly applied that it is almost impossible to avoid breaking them anyway. Bad laws are so dangerous because they undermine the consent that gives the rule of law its legitimacy, and distinguishes it from the mere exercise of state power.

Barrie Wood said...

And to think Cameron called UKIP the party of fruitcakes, nutters and closet racists....

pity one of your council candidates in Greater Manchester seems to bemoan the idea of more ethnic minority candidates representing your party.

Why has she not be removed as a Tory candidate ? The Tories still the 'nasty party' ?!

Barrie Wood said...


don't worry I doubt I'll agree with Marcus too often. I wouldn't want to get in the way of the NuLab / Tory coalition of ideas. I'll stick to being a radical social liberal !!!