Friday 6 July 2012

Confidence Trick Or Treats

The BBC ran a three part series, “The Strange Case Of The Law”, on how the Law of England developed since the age of the Anglo Saxons and how so many of its features were exported to the wider world.  Harry Potter was the presenter, this one being a barrister engaged in Criminal Law.

It is a long and complicated history but the series did manage to distil the essence of it.  On the whole it used to be regarded as a “good thing” which made trials fairer, the law better and its management understood by both the experts involved and in general by the great majority of the population.

But in the final few minutes of the series came the bad news.  One of the most senior and able judges more or less said that with recent legislation our noble and learned judiciary have difficulty in understanding it and even more trouble trying to apply it to the cases that come before the courts.

There are three key problems.  One now is the sheer length and extent of new Acts of Parliament.  Another is the complexity of the many sections, schedules and clauses etc. 

The third is that the structure and language use do not clearly set out what the law is.  They are often descriptive and allusive and assume that philosophical ideas can somehow become enforceable and explainable law.

So if our Parliament no longer enacts workable laws, which it is paid to do and that it why it is there, why is that happening and what are the effects?  Major reasons why it is happening is that an out of control Civil Service is churning the stuff out wholesale rather than retail. 

Another is the tidal wave of regulation and directives from Brussels, very long on words and very short on clarity.

In a way I was glad to see an eminent judge admitting that when faced an Act consisting of hundreds of pages, thousands of parts and an untold number of words he is often defeated by the struggle.  If he cannot cope then nor can I nor almost all of the population that is educated or managing things or both.

In other words the legislative diarrhoea that we have had now for most of the last two decades may well have begun to destroy the real basis of the legal system and worse any confidence that the electorate may have in it or its practitioners.  As well as that those that run things then those who are the doers are all at a loss.

Without confidence in the law itself, little in the government, less in Parliament and almost zero in all the other agencies engaged in governing then the loss will become all pervasive.  When we then also lose confidence in our financial system and our public utilities then we lose any vision of community or nationality.

It is then that the unscrupulous power brokers and political and financial confidence tricksters take over.  If they take over our media as well then it is certainly goodbye to any coherent and effective body of law.

If history is any guide it tells us that our political systems cannot last and it is goodbye to any real form of democracy as well.


  1. I'd 'opine' that conservatives like to rule by 'obsfuscation', writing a bunch of vague gobbledegook and then insisting it means other than what it says. (At least that's the way it works over on this side of the pond.)

    As for the media I fear it is already too late. The laws intended to prevent media monopolies have either been wiped out or skirted, resulting in the forementioned 'consolidation' of what passes for the 'news'.

  2. There are so many sensible honest hard working people of all ages and denominations still around, who budget carefully, and care well for their children and older relatives. They are very aware of current events, but they feel they are helpless to alter anything other than within their own circle. Most people I know do not think they can ever influence anyone in Government. A danger would be if the wrong people come to power in emergency, as has happened so often in history.

  3. "If he cannot cope then nor can I nor almost all of the population that is educated or managing things or both."

    I have this problem doing blog research.

    If the EU or UN are involved, then something that should be simple such as a bit of environmental research can have so many bureaucratic fingers in the pie, so much inexact waffle that I often give up in disgust.

    Yet I'm supposed to be a professional - or was. I'm well out of it now.

  4. At the other end of the justice continuum, the principle of justice at local level, by local people at a local court is being rapidly destroyed. Police now act as judge and sentence delivery on a range of crimes, they give people an "out" of a criminal record affecting caution and routinely act on crimes previously taken through a magistrates court. All in the name of "speeding things up" and "reducing costs", which it has... but at what cultural cost. Local courts are closing and plaintiffs have to travel many miles to attend a court with no local knowledge. When the authorities start to act as lawmaker,lawenforcer,judge and jury, isn't that a key characteristic of an early fascist state? Is that where we are going?

  5. Allan, as a recently retired Police officer I must disagree with your comment on Police acting as judge and sentence delivery (I assume you are talking about the dreaded Fixed Penalty Notices issued for a myriad of offences which were once dealt with the courts). This form of 'summary justice' was forced onto the Police by a series of inward looking, myopic, political masters in attempt to save money by not using local courts for minor offences. The idea was that this would free up court time for the really serious cases. The truth is that this has not happened and magistrates courts are now under-used. Any FPN can be challenged through the courts if necessary. In such cases, it is the CPS - Crown Prosecution Service/Criminal Protection Society/Couldn't Prosecute Satan (take your pick) - who decides if a challenge to an FPN is winnable and whether the matter should go to court or discontinued. I would have much preferred to have my villains before the courts but senior officers wish to be promoted and so they follow, like sheep, the actions of their senior officers. You may not be aware that there are almost 7 times as many officially approved non-Police who can isue FPNs as there are Police officers in the whole of UK. If you wish to challenge any of those tickets, I would suggest you read up on Kafka.

  6. @Anonymous, excellent response. To those on the outside, it all seems a bit broken and chaotic at present. I'd no idea that FPNs were in the hands of so many non-police agencies. The current situation seems calculated to feed the mail with headlines for many years to come. Thanks for the real view of one who has "experienced" the reality.