Judge attacks 'explosion' in new legislation

PUBLISHED January 30, 2006

There has been an "explosion" in new legislation and not enough scrutiny of existing laws, the judge responsible for law reform said at the weekend.Sir Roger Toulson's comments follow concern among other judges that the criminal law is amended too frequently, and a complaint last week from the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, that "too many" laws have been passed since Labour came to power in 1997.

Sir Roger, who is the chairman of the Law Commission, which advises the Government on reform of the law, will suggest this week that there would be less need for new legislation if Parliament scrutinised existing laws after they had been passed.

In 1965, when the commission was established, there were 7,500 pages of new laws, including both statutes and secondary legislation.

By 2003, that figure had grown to 16,000 pages, plus another 11,000 pages of European Union legislation. In 2004, the figure for domestic legislation had risen still further to almost 18,000 pages.

"There has been, over the life of the Law Commission, a legislative explosion," Sir Roger said. "It has been a steady progression: each government has legislated more than its predecessor."

One reason, he said, was that life had become more complicated. Another was that Britain had become part of the EU.

Financial services had become more sophisticated, with new markets opening. Business scandals had paved the way for more regulation. The Financial Services Management Act 2000 contained 433 sections and had spawned more than 100 statutory instruments.

In addition, he pointed out, successive governments had taken control in areas such as education that were previously run by local authorities.

Criminal justice reform had been a "Cinderella subject" in 1965, he recalled. "Nobody would say today that Parliament has neglected the criminal law."

Sir Roger said that consolidation of existing laws was desirable; Finance Bills were essential. But he was concerned at the number of times that Parliament responded to a perceived emergency by passing instant legislation.

One little-known example of this was the Unlawful Drilling Act 1819, passed in the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre. The Act, designed to prevent paramilitary parades, remains in force although it has hardly ever been used.

Because such legislation was often produced in haste, he said, there was a good argument for reviewing it at leisure. The football stadium disasters at Ibrox in 1971, at Bradford in 1985 and at Hillsborough in 1989 all led to the introduction of individual pieces of legislation.

This suggested that each piece of legislation was insufficient to prevent the subsequent loss of life. While Sir Roger would not go so far as to say that a review of the legislation would have prevented another disaster, he said that there was a case for reviewing legislation to see if it had achieved its purpose.