The lawmakers dilemma

Our lawmakers can’t do right for doing wrong it seems. When they introduce a new law they don’t tackle the problem. Many laws seem to be more about the political appeasement of the people to avoid losing votes than addressing the issues they claim to be. They are however in a very difficult position, even when you remove the political bias.

Laws do not stop crime, they merely provide a potential for legal repercussions when the crime is committed, and a case put together for a court to judge it. Since our system requires lawyers to defend their client and get the best outcome for them regardless of guilt or innocence it requires them to exploit loopholes in the law to win their case, even if the loophole used is absurd and irrelevant.

A recent example of this is a case of drivers caught speeding by a hand held speed camera, where the lawyer’s case relies on the fact that it was civilians who took the readings, and as civilians they do not have the power to enforce the law, where the Police, as public servants do. The fact that the drivers have been speeding and been caught speeding seems to be irrelevant to the charge of speeding, whereas the identity of who caught them may let them avoid repercussions for breaking the law.

To me, the simple answer to avoid being caught speeding is not to speed, the case for speed cameras being in the right places or if the speed limit is suitable for the road in question are entirely separate issues.

It’s because lawyers find loopholes to argue in court and win cases on, which in turn let’s the guilty go free and the public outrage at this that laws have to be very restrictive. They have to try and imagine every possible situation to make sure there are no loopholes, this removes discretion from the system.

When a doctor makes a house call, his or her patient is the top priority, so parking as close to the scene is vital, if this happens to be in a no parking zone and they get a parking ticket they can’t argue that their patient comes first; they still have to pay. In the UK there’s evidence of buses stopping to let someone off getting a parking ticket as it’s stationary in a no parking zone for a minute, as well as a whole heap of other absurd examples of parking attendants “doing their job”.

In many cases, laws come in after a high profile case where the law wasn’t covering something that should be covered; and the loophole was pointed out. This is natural, but done in the right way. Often it’s a case of politicians appeasing the public by throwing together a new amendment to show that they’re “responding to public concern” which is generally badly thought out law. When a new amendment is properly debated and examined from every angle to make sure it does what it’s supposed to and don’t close one door just to open another it can be good law.

Of course, laws only work when they are enforced. They are only respected when they are fair. How many people copy a friend’s CD to save them buying it? This is copyright theft but unless it’s on a large scale for profit, the Police are unlikely to ever enforce it. Imagine the outcry if Police forces across the country raided every home and seized their CD collection, and started working out how many offenses each of us had committed, then preparing the cases for the courts. Technically they are within their rights to do this, yet what would happen with the serious offenses like rape, murder etc? The Police wouldn’t have any time to deal with them.

In the UK the common mantra of the Blair administration is to introduce new laws to get headlines. What’s often not pointed out, is that in many cases the law is fine, it’s just not being enforced; that’s why the case has been highlighted resulting in the public pressure to “do something about it”.

When a new law is added to the statute books we complain that it adds a new layer of red tape and restricts the discretion the people enforcing it have; like the Police and Judges, yet when the laws allow for discretion we complain when the guilty use a loophole that wasn’t meant for their situation to get them off. We are outraged when the innocent are punished because the law allows no discretion for circumstances. Even with the best will in the world if you remove party or personal politics from the equation, the lawmakers have a very difficult job in balancing this situation.

The law is about a deterrent from offending as well as a punishment for offending. A deterrent only works when the law is enforced. When our prison places are about zero, with little capacity for new inmates our Judges are being advised to give lighter sentences and more community based punishments. At the same time Police cells are being opened to house convicted people. People already in the system for offenses, non payment of fines etc. Which don’t endanger the public are taking up valuable space where they don’t need to be. Since overcrowding and lot’s of short sentences are the norm, the chance of rehabilitation is gone, which inevitably means that the circumstances in their life which led them there in the first place are waiting to reclaim them when they leave.

When people see a law they consider to be unfair, they are less likely to obey it themselves, the same goes when they see a law which many others are flouting with no repercussions. Why should I respect it if no one else does? Perception can be different from reality however. A flood of anecdotal evidence in the headlines, and from those around them may or may not reflect the reality of the figures, but it does affect their trust in the law in question.

The more you restrict people who want to do things which harm no one else they will rebel, no one apart from the ruler wants to live in a tyrannical regime. When you open the laws too much and allow too much freedom some will inevitably take that too far for their own ends. You have to find that balance, which centers on being as free as possible, but making the people responsible for their own actions, which means sensible laws which protect those who need protection and not punish those who have a harmless freedom of expression which is slightly different from most.

After all, if someone wants to sell sex, and someone wants to buy it; is it up to anyone else to decide that a transaction can’t legally take place? Personally I have never used a prostitute, and I doubt I ever would but I see no offense there if both parties agree; each to their own. There are other potential offenses there, such as enforced or underage prostitution or to feed a drug dependency, but not the transaction itself.

What don’t help the public perception is cases where the media follow every turn and the case looks clear cut either way; and the Judge makes his ruling which seems to the public that he’s been listening to a different case. This is most apparent in government inquiries where they appoint a senior loyal Judge as a “trusted third party” who then proceeds to whitewash any allegations against individuals regardless of the evidence presented to him, and finds “system errors which have now been fixed” and “recommendations” which the government who started the inquiry to stop the slippage of public trust then ignores, or cherry picks which particular recommendations they want to adopt.

It’s time our media and politicians evolved above the name calling too, this only helps sell papers. When we seek to group people into easily defined labeled groups and attack them for an opinion on a subject that don’t fit their stereotyped image it reflects badly on all and achieves nothing. People can be liberal minded on some subjects and hard line on others, the world is not easily defined. People who can rise above being labeled have more influence in their views, as they see the world in a more mature way. The traditional viewpoint in politics of right and left wing is irrelevant and damaging in a complex world.

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