Wednesday, 23 September 2009

When The Law Is Not The Law

Come on, we have all broken a law or two in our time. I will own up, I have speeded and been fined on 4 occasions in over 30 years of driving. I have also had numerous parking and congestion charge fines.

I have even had to spend an evening 'cooling off' after a stupid scene at a restaurant in London many years ago when someone left a bag behind and a friend and I went to retrieve it but the staff had already locked the door. It didn't help that we were worse off after a few drinks, but the staff shouted from inside as we tried to make ourselves understood. What they knew was that one of our table of revellers had snuck the bag out already and so they thought we were shouting at them for something else. The Law duly arrived and seeing that we had had a few drinks there was an automatic assumption that we were in the wrong even though our friends showed that a prank had been played on us. We were duly taken to Bow Street and spent the night at their unfashionable facilities, to have to come back and pay a fine the next morning. In our eyes, it was a simple misunderstanding but in the eyes of the law we had caused a disturbance and were assumed to be blind drunk which was not strictly true.

The law, however, is the law.

I have always been a citizen who by and large goes about my daily business within the law. I don't agree with the wholesale implementation of speed cameras for the sake of catching innocent motorists when the majority of major offences go unpunished, I think it's poor prioritisation and it's all about balancing budgets and hitting 'targets' rather than protecting the public. The general, law abiding public are the easiest majority to extract money from because we pay, without question, on time. Criminals don't. But I still pay the fines if I have to - it's the law, whether I agree with it or not.

So when someone breaks a law due to ignorance, lack of understanding, genuine oversight, or because they were mislead, generally I have a great deal of sympathy. Particularly when that crime endangers no one. A classic example would be employing a housekeeper or nanny who has arrived from another country who has let their employer know they have complied with all immigration regulations when they actually haven't. You have to say, as an individual, do we have all the necessary lines of information that allow us to check every last detail? Probably not - if someone wants to dupe us, they probably will. In that case, who has committed the crime?

In the eyes of the law, it is the employer - even an individual. It sounds barmy, because it is barmy. The onus is on the individual or company to make all the checks beforehand and, as the tax man would tell us, ignorance is not an excuse. It is why, in the case of MPs Expenses, the excuse of oversight and ignorance was the alibi du jour when for everyday citizens such dizziness is not allowable.

So in the case of the highest lawyer in the land, who actually crafted the very law of which she has fallen foul of, it is perhaps a wonderful case, 'Now you know what it feels like.' Baroness Scotland probably made as minor an error as you or I would make and we would be fined a great deal of money. We would be unlikely to lose our jobs, but then again this is a very special case. In this case, Baroness Scotland has experienced at first hand the stupidity of the Law - her own Law. For her, ignorance and oversight cannot be an excuse as she had full knowledge of all that was required as she wrote the damn book on the subject. Ignorance cannot be an excuse in her case. And perhaps it takes a barrister or an Attorney General to be guilty of one of their own 'crimes' for them to understand the nonsense they write.

I would argue that Baroness Scotland may survive her mishap, but the least she can do is to a) go back over all cases where employers or individuals have made genuine oversights and review their cases in the context of her own and, b) re-draft the law with common sense in mind and remind herself of who was the 'criminal' here - the liar or the person who just did not have the time to make all the necessary checks. One other thing to consider - who let the person into the country in the first place?

There is a lot of political hand wringing going on as everyone enjoys yet another moment of discomfort for Gordon Brown - but there have been far worse of late from Fred Goodwin's pension and Lord 'dopey' Myners, to Peter Mandelson's yacht episodes (both Deripaska's and Geffen's), the tragedies of soldiers dying in Iraq, Hazel Blears, the Oil for Bomber deal - it goes on.
I don't have a great deal of sympathy for Baroness Scotland and her daft laws but let's be honest, as a winner of an MC is killed in Afghanistan this week as yet another victim of a poorly equipped army, this ranks pretty low down the priority list frankly.

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