Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Origin of Laws

Interesting 5 Live debate on the Eu Constitution/Treaty today, the usual Eu-philes calling everyone else "bigoted/xenophobes/little Englanders" and Mark Mardell intervening only to make pro-EU points, but what interested me was this. One caller pointed out that EU law is framed by the Commission,after secret or hidden negotiations and reviewed by the parliament, but ultimate authority rests with the commission, unelected. Recently of course an EU commissioner graciously decided to allow Britain to continue to use imperial units without threat of crminial prosecution. I'm not commenting on the truth of all this, by the way.

Victoria Derbyshire challenged the caller by saying: "If it's a good law, does it matter where it comes from?" and the caller did answer her, but it struck me that for the first time to my knowledge someone openly questioned whether or not law makers should be elected, accountable, removable, and their laws open to repeal. Her argument rested on the philosophy of a given law - is it right? Do I agree with it? Does it satisfy my sense of justice or ethics - and the concept of a lawmaker deriving their legitimacy from the consent of the governed was not mentioned.

It's seemed clear to me for a while that we're moving towards a kind of technocracy, where "experts" really do know better than everyone else because the modern world is so complex; but it's rare for someone so openly to challenge the basic tenet of democracy and then to replace it with something resembling this: If the modern world really is unfathomably complex, and if some people really do understand it better than us, then they do have a greater right to frame it than we do. Our view, or vote, is largely irrelevant. Moreover, if a principle is right, or "good", then it should be enacted, regardless of the wishes of the people.

Am I then an old reactionary in thinking that laws which affect my day to day life: which measurements I am to use; how long I can work; what I should think about certain events or people; should be enacted, if at all, by a government elected by the people with a mandate for that, and that they should be able to be repealed when they fall out of favour or outlive their usefulness and the lawmakers removed?

I'm not saying that our current system does this well, but it is at least supposed to, and we can scrutinise it and hold it to account. I don't see the EU commission held to account much at all, and it depresses me that intelligent people want less public involvement in law-making rather than more.

Then again, everything depresses me so that's largely irrelevant.


Shades said...

"If it's a good law, does it matter where it comes from?"

If it's a bad law it definitely matters.

Dr. James P. Holdren said...'s rare for someone so openly to challenge the basic tenet of democracy and then to replace it with something resembling this...

Well spotted, sir.

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

The answer sutrely, is to educate and empower people further, not dumb down and disenfranschise them.

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

If It's a good law, it still matters.
Because it sets a precedent.

Fredoms are rarely given, except through bloodshed.
They are frequently taken.

Vigilance is eternally necessary.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Interesting post. Yes, I can see we are moving towards a tecnocracy and the need for experts but it is sad that few of us even think about the law until it affects us in some way.

MJW said...

As long as we live in a democracy the people who make the law are ultimately accountable to the electorate, because that's who gives them their mandate. They may not like that, but that's just tough.

The unaccountability of the EU is a worry, the further away from the people they are supposed to represent law makers get, the more likely they are to make bad laws in my opinion.

Phil A said...

The system of government the EU is foisting on us is profoundly undemocratic. New-Lab is arguably drifting into a form of fascism, or ‘Fascist-Lite

Unfortunately a significant number of voters appear to be terminally and wilfully ignorant, possessed of the reputed memory of a goldfish and gullible to the point of idiocy. Infantile and lazy. Unwilling to guard, or defend their rights.

Still the argument that only experts have sufficient knowledge to frame legislation, or direct it is wrong. The problem with ‘experts’ is that their knowledge may run deep but it also runs narrow.

An expert on food hygiene is unlikely to also be an expert on sewage management or modelling traffic flow.

Much of the problem with virtually all recent legislation and much that is foisted on us by the EU is that there is not lateral thinking involved.. No looking at the wider implications of legislation, targets and policy.

So time and time again the law of unintended consequences bites government in the rear end.

That is why legislation needs to be extensively and publicly reviewed.

lady macleod said...

Interesting post. It is most frightening how many people CHOOSE not to think.