Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rule of law.

This is the other side of showboating politics, the more serious side. There's been a lot written in various places over the past couple of days about the circumstances which the current government is attempting to rectify by implementing retroactive legislation, namely turning illegally gathered evidence, retroactively into legally gathered evidence. There are two pieces that I think are worth reading on the topic, Mai Chen in the Herald today, and Andrew Geddis on Pundit yesterday. Andrew makes the point that if the crimes are serious enough, the courts can still use illegally gotten evidence so using "bad guys are going to get away" is poor justification for retrospective legislation.

There are a couple of larger, more important points made by both of these people, ones that I wholeheartedly concur with. One of the problems with retrospective legislation is that you can make something that was illegal legal. In this case the illegal actions were those of the police. Allowing those actions to be legalized gives the impression that the police are above the law, that they can break it with impunity and have parliament sort it out later. One of the most important things that distinguish a police force from an occupation force is that they are bound by the rule of law. Retroactively legalizing criminal actions on their part removes responsibility from the police removing them from the rule of law. Which is not to say that the police are about to descend into lawlessness. Two points though. If the general population think of the police as being able to operate outside the law, why should they be regarded as anything other than state sanctioned criminals. And if there actions are retroactively legalized once, what is to stop them from seeking to have it done again. Retroactive legalization of criminal actions on the part of the police, especially under urgency where no input from the public is allowed, in my opinion would weaken the trust the general populace have in the police. Which is a bad thing.

One of the things that annoys me the most about our current government is there seeming disregard for the rule of law. They give me the impression of people who think that the act of governing gives those in power carte blanche. It doesn't. Or it shouldn't. You don't go giving people broad powers via badly written legislation and say it'll be alright because those people will only ever use those powers in the manner intended. They will. Humans don't have a good history in that respect. I would prefer the legislation my government passes to take time, have been looked over by a bunch of incredibly devious lawyers to get rid of loopholes and to be prospective. Breaches of current laws should be prosecuted rather than amended.

Besides, if they can make something that was illegal legal, what's to stop them making something that was legal illegal. Not the sort of confidence I want to have in my legislature.

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