Sunday, July 11, 2004

A blizzard of crimes

My colleague Christopher Booker, in his Sunday Telegraph column today, writes about Simon Jenkins. In an article in The Times on smacking, he wrote last week that "Britain allegedly invents roughly 10 new crimes a year".

"What planet", Booker asks, "is Sir Simon living on?" "He clearly hasn't woken up to the unending blizzard of new laws pouring out of Whitehall and Brussels each year creating not 'tens' of new crimes a year but tens of thousands. If Sir Simon were, for instance, to look up the Animal By-Products Regulations 2003, implementing EC Regulation 1774/2002, he would find that this one piece of legislation puts more than 500 new criminal offences on the statute book, each punishable by a fine up to £20,000 or up to two years in prison. It is far from untypical."

If more media folk, led by Sir Simon, could actually look at some of these laws we might have rather better-informed outrage at the revolution in government that they represent, instead of the lofty observation that "Britain allegedly invents roughly 10 new crimes a year".

Booker, of course, is much closer to the real world than these "above the line" figures, and half the problem with modern society is that these so-called "movers and shakers" don't have the first idea what is going on.

As just one tiny example, in Court last week, while waiting to go in to see the magistrates, I was presented by the usher with a "means form", on which I was supposed to declare all my income and outgoings. This is nothing new and has traditionally been presented to offenders and debtors as an aid to magistrates is determining the levels of fines, and/or assessing means to pay.

But what is different now is that filling in the form is compulsory – in other words it is a criminal offence not to complete it. Thus, whether it is relevant or not, the law requires this information, creating yet another "crime" if one does not comply. In my case, it was completely irrelevant to the matter in hand, so I declined to give the information, on the basis that it was none of the Court's business how much I earned - not unless there is a means test in order to get sent down. Exit one stroppy usher and a complaint to the Court.

Of course, there are those who take the po-faced view that "the law is the law and must be obeyed". Sorry chuck, but once a system gets so out of control that it is creating new laws faster than a wedding group can throw confetti, it is time to call a halt. And, if the legislators can't see that, then it is the duty of every citizen to tell them where to shove their laws.

If you want to read the full Booker column, click here.


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