Wednesday 1 June 2022

Legal innovation at Number 10


The PM’s (presumably soon to be ex-) ethics advisor has, not unreasonably, suggested that receiving a fixed penalty notice for breaking the law might, in itself, be considered to constitute a breach of the overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law. It’s hardly a controversial conclusion to draw. In response, the PM has responded to the effect that it doesn’t really count as a breach of the law or of his duty to abide by the law because there was “no intent to break the law”. It’s a novel legal idea, but somehow, I don’t see ‘I did it m’lud, but I never intended to’ working as a defence in court, nor can I believe that ‘lack of intent’ will be accepted as mitigation in the case of other types of fixed penalty notices, such as parking fines or speeding fines. But when you’re world king, who needs a pesky ethics advisor anyway? Unless it’s the sort who brings karaoke machines to unlawful gatherings, of course.

It's not the only legal innovation to emanate from the current government. One of the main justifications for the policy of sending migrants to Rwanda is that it will break the business model of the people smuggling gangs who are currently preying on the vulnerable and desperate. Some naïve folk, like myself, might think that it would be better to punish the gangs themselves rather than those on whom they prey, but identifying and catching them has proven to be beyond the capacity of those responsible for enforcing the law, so they’ll punish the victims instead. This will, according to them, act as a deterrent to anyone else tempted to pay criminals to gain entry to the UK. If punishing the perpetrators is too hard, let’s simply punish their victims instead.

I hesitate to put ideas into their heads, but perhaps these innovations could be extended to other fields. If catching burglars is too much like hard work, why not fine the people who’ve been burgled? It wouldn’t stop burglary, but it’s likely to deter people from wasting police time by reporting it. It would do wonders for the crime statistics. Just as long as the victims of burglary don’t try to wriggle out of it by claiming that they had ‘no intent’ to be burgled.

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