Monday, 16 December 2013

I’m pretty sure we already have enough anti-slavery laws – why do we need a new one?

The Home Secretary Theresa May has been on the news today boasting about a new Modern Slavery Bill, which strikes me as a perfect example of pointless government posturing. We already have quite enough laws – we just need a criminal justice system  determined to enforce them.

The headline measure in the new legislation will be to increase the maximum penalty from 14 years to life. Big deal – most prisoners with a life sentence are up for parole within 10 to 15 years in any case. Surely the main problem is catching those guilty of enslaving people, getting a conviction in court, and appointing judges who will dish out the maximum sentence available.

Another main aim of the bill is to “consolidate” the large number of existing offences into a single act. And this makes a difference how exactly? I’m far from being a legal expert, but does this really amount to anything more than administrative twiddling? Does it matter in which act an offence is enshrined as long as it exists somewhere?

Finally, inevitably, the act allows for the creation of an anti-slavery commissioner who would hold the constituent parts of the criminal justice system to account. What puzzles me is why the CJS should need this sort of encouragement (or, if your prefer, bullying). Don’t the police and the courts want to catch, convict and imprison criminals? Are they now as relaxed about slavery as they are about, say, shop-lifting? If so, why? I suppose they’re far too busy tracking down those dangerous villains responsible for posting off-colour jokes about Nelson Mandela on social networks to deal with those who deprive others of their freedom.

I particularly enjoyed two points made today by the Home Secretary. First she felt it necessary to assure us that "the victim is at the heart of what we're doing". Despite some evidence to the contrary, I think we all rather assume that the reason we have laws and police and courts and suchlike is to protect the innocent from the guilty, rather than the other way round. Or have I got this wrong?

According to a review carried out by the Labour MP Frank Field some 10,000 people are currently enslaved in the UK (leaving aside tax-payers, of course). But on the Today Programme this morning, Mrs. May admitted that she doesn’t have a clue if that figure is accurate. So why is she bothering to introduce new legislation regarding sentencing policy when the real problem is evidently detection

The answer to that last question is simple: as passing laws is what governments are designed to do, that’s what they concentrate on doing. In 2010, for instance, 3,506 new laws were passed - 13.5 for every working day. This ensures humungous quantities of frenzied make-work activity by ministers and civil servants and lawyers whose main purpose is to convince themselves and the electorate that they’re actually doing something useful – which, of course, they aren’t.

There are many things wrong with this country: a lack of laws isn't one of them. 

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