Refining Existing Legislation

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/5413.htm)

Politicians often want to be seen to ‘do something’ in response to an incident; Britain’s government, for example, created 4,300 new ‘crimes’ between 1997 and 2009: on 22 January 2010 the Daily Mail reported that “Labour is dreaming up 33 new crimes a month… including barring you from swimming into the Titanic”.

There are several risks in an over-reliance on legislation as a political tool:

  • Hastily-drafted legislation can introduce errors, ambiguities and inconsistencies. Laws which have stood the test of time, and whose interpretation has evolved, are more robust.
  • Additional legislation introduces complication, which makes the law less easy to understand (and therefore harder to comply with).

There are many situations where it is unnecessary to introduce completely new legislation, by refining what already exists.  And it is often possible to instruct the police to strengthen enforcement, or to bring prosecutions under existing laws.  The legal framework can be gradually adapted in the light of experience, as illustrated:

This diagram illustrates an iterative approach to refining existing legislation, and it also mentions other features in the Legal Dimension which politicians can use to influence people’s behaviour.


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