As anyone who has children or perhaps even a pet will know, making the rules is the easy bit.
In the last 10-20 years, more statutes have been passed under English law, both civil and criminal, than perhaps ever before. Ask a small business about health & safety, data protection or employment law and the majority will have a scant knowledge at best and have found it impossible to keep up with all the changes and new laws.
What’s my point ?
Laws are in essence rules or boundaries. We all need these in our lives but what point is there in having laws or rules without consistent enforcement ?
Tell your child that bedtime is at 8pm every night. For the first few nights you enforce that rule, but thereafter it becomes intermittent. Sooner rather than later, the child is not going to take that rule seriously.
Laws or rules without enforcement are pointless and in fact may even be counterproductive, encouraging rule breaking.
Up until very recently, there has been a growing trend of more laws but less enforcement. Some obvious examples, ranging from more minor consequences upwards are :-
- Financial maintenance orders for children not complied with
- Parking tickets – many thousands issued, in reality, a small number enforced where unpaid
- Self certified mortgage applications – believed that many thousands of such applications in the 1990’s and 2000’s were in essence fraudulent
- Only 25% of websites currently complying with EU cookie laws for websites
- Data Protection – comparatively few businesses fully comply
- Fraud on the increase
- Personal injury fraud believed to be widespread in terms of exaggerated whiplash claims
These are just a few examples. In essence, we had perhaps reached a point where law was not taken seriously by a significant section of society, both individuals and businesses.
When law is not respected or taken seriously, surely society has a major problem?
Where lying seems to be ok, without consequences, this is surely a problem for society ?
Research suggests, as a worrying example, that a significant and rapidly increasing proportion of job applicants have been prepared to lie on cv’s and job applications. Surely, they would not do so if they respected the law, believing that if found out, there would be consequences.
Backlash or comeback ?
What we’ve seen in the last year seems to be a rapid attempt by the Government to show that it now wants to get tough on the increased lawlessness. So far, this has manifested itself in high profile enquiries and arrests relating to phone hacking, getting tough on big business and banks with significant fines for breaking laws, threats to break up the banking system and most recently tough talking on tax evasion schemes. These mirror the mood of public anger at perceived greed and self interest of financial institutions.
However, do we really want law to become like a boom or bust economy ?
Do we want a situation where laws are ignored while times are good and then, when times are bad and the public gets angry, we clamp down hard, then simply return to the other end of the spectrum ?
Is it perhaps the case that so many of us are angry at big institutions because we are in denial about our own behavior and are externalising a degree of anxiety about societal breakdown ?
Laws are laws – it’s no good enforcing some but not others or making an example of big institutions but facilitating a situation where a significant number of the population still don’t perceive that they have to comply with all laws, not just the ones that seem to have consequences if breached. It’s no good passing laws where there aren’t the resources to properly enforce them (data protection is a good example).
I hope that law is making a comeback and that respect for the law, from the vast majority of businesses and individuals, will again become the norm rather than the exception. The alternative is ultimately anarchy.
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