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Blair's 'frenzied law making' : a new offence for every day spent in office

Nigel Morris / London Independent | August 16 2006

Tony Blair's government has created more than 3,000 new criminal offences during its nine-year tenure, one for almost every day it has been in power.

The astonishing tally brought accusations last night of a "frenzied approach to law-making" that contrasts with falling detection rates and climbing levels of violent crime.

The figures emerged as police chiefs disclosed they were considering asking ministers for a set of new measures to allow them to impose "instant justice" for antisocial behaviour.

The 3,000-plus offences have been driven on to the statute book by an administration that has faced repeated charges of meddling in the everyday lives of citizens, from restricting freedom of speech to planning to issue identity cards to all adults.

In total, the Government has brought in 3,023 offences since May 1997. They comprise 1,169 introduced by primary legislation - debated in Parliament - and 1,854 by secondary legislation such as statutory instruments and orders in council.

Remarkably, Labour is creating offences at twice the rate of the previous Tory administration. During its last nine years in office, under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, fewer than 500 new crimes reached the statute book via primary legislation.

And the rate at which offences are being created is accelerating the longer that Tony Blair remains in Downing Street. In 1998, Labour's first full year in power, 160 new offences passed into legislation, rising to 346 in 2000 and 527 in 2005.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, who uncovered the figures, said: "Nothing can justify the step change in the number of criminal offences invented by this Government. This provides a devastating insight into the real legacy of nine years of New Labour government - a frenzied approach to law-making, thousands of new offences, an illiberal belief in heavy-handed regulation, an obsession with controlling the minutiae of everyday life.

"The result? A country less free than before, and a marked erosion of the trust which should exist between the Government and the governed."

He said ministers had failed to grasp the simple truth that "weighing down the statute book" with new laws was "no substitute for good government".

Many offences are uncontroversial and will have widespread support, such as tougher penalties for selling contaminated food or against violent crime. But the Government has still managed to produce a surreal list of new offences.

It is now illegal to sell grey squirrels, impersonate a traffic warden or offer Air Traffic Control services without a licence. Creating a nuclear explosion was outlawed in 1998.

Householders who fail to nominate a neighbour to turn off their alarm while they are away from home can be breaking the law. And it is an offence for a ship's captain to be carrying grain unless he has a copy of the International Grain Code on board.

The Home Office, which has produced 60 Bills over a hyperactive nine-year period, is responsible for 430 of the new offences.

The flood of Bills compares with one criminal justice Bill per decade for much of the 20th century and has brought pleas for a period of calm from the department.

Terry Grange, Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys, has accused the past two home secretaries, Charles Clarke and John Reid, of making policies "on the hoof" in response to media pressure over serious crime problems, foreign offenders and the immigration service.

Lord Ramsbotham, the former chief inspector of prisons, has urged Tony Blair to "shut up" for the sake of stability in the criminal system.

Almost every other part of Whitehall has also found things to outlaw. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has brought in 640 new offences, the vast majority through secondary legislation. The Department for Trade and Industry has produced another 592, and the Foreign Office and the Office for the Deputy Prime Minister 277 each.

Each addition swells the enormous number of offences already on the statute book, some dating back to medieval times. Even the Attorney General's office said it had no idea how many existed. A spokeswoman said: "There are thousands and thousands."

Downing Street argued last night that much of the legislation it had inherited needed to be updated. A spokesman said: "Crime has fallen by 35 per cent since Labour came to power precisely because we have given the police and criminal justice system the modern laws they have asked for to tackle crime effectively.

"Among the offences we've modernised are new laws to tackle sex offences, domestic violence, antisocial behaviour and knife and gun crime. Are the Liberal Democrats saying these were a mistake?"

Mr Blair has made clear that he favours an extension of summary justice, and fresh proposals are expected in the autumn.

The Association of Chief Police Officers disclosed yesterday that it was considering asking ministers for powers of instant justice, including the authority to exclude unruly youngsters from town centres and to break up teenage gangs.
Condemning the idea, David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "We cannot bypass the court system. It is up to the justice system to scrutinise and take judicial decisions, not the police."

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of human rights group Liberty, said the figures demonstrated that politicians were becoming "addicted to law making". She said: "The next time the cry goes up to legislate our way out of a crisis, a deep breath from the Home Office might just be more inspiring than further statutory graffiti."

Enver Solomon, deputy director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London, said: "It has become a New Labour trademark to criminalise a range of social harms which would be more effectively dealt with away from the clutches of the criminal justice agencies."

Twenty activities outlawed by Labour

Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Act 1998

Causing a nuclear explosion.

Scallop Fishing Order 2004

If a boat breaches the restrictions in articles 3, 4 or 5, the master, owner and charterer are each guilty of an offence.

Measuring Instruments (Automatic Rail-weighbridges) Regulations 2006

A person shall be guilty of an offence if he uses for trade an automatic rail-weighbridge to which there is affixed a disqualification sticker.

Scotland Act 1998 (Border Rivers) Order 1999

Unauthorised fishing in the Lower Esk.

Apple and Pear Orchard Grubbing Up Regulations 1998

Any person who (a) intentionally obstructs an authorised person in the exercise of the powers conferred on him by regulation 10 above, or a person accompanying him and acting under his instructions or (b) without reasonable excuse, fails to comply with a requirement under regulation 10 above, shall be guilty of an offence.

Protection of Wrecks (RMS Titanic) Order 2003

A person shall not enter the hull of the Titanic without permission from the Secretary of State.

Merchant Shipping (Crew Accommodation) Regulations 1997

Failure to provide adequate facilities for crew members.

Transport Act 2003

A person commits an offence if he provides air traffic services in respect of a managed area.

Polish Potatoes (Notification) (England) Order 2004

No person shall, in the course of business, import into England potatoes which he knows to be or has reasonable cause to suspect to be Polish potatoes.

Learning and Skills Act 2000

Obstructing an inspection by the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

Care Standards Act 2000

Obstructing the work of the Children's Commissioner for Wales.

Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001

Knowingly etc selling plates which are not vehicle registration plates.

London Underground (East London Line Extension) (No 2) Order 2001

Any person who, without reasonable excuse, obstructs any person acting under the authority of the Company in setting out the lines of the scheduled works, or in constructing any authorised work or who interferes with, moves or removes any apparatus belonging to any such person shall be guilty of an offence.

Courts Act 2003

Assaulting and obstructing court security officers.

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005

Part seven of the Act created offences of failing to nominate a key-holder where an audible intruder alarm is present.

Merchant Shipping (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2002

If any officer appointed in accordance with regulation 30(1) reports to the master or other officer in charge of the bridge a door to be closed and locked when it is not in fact closed and locked he shall be guilty of an offence.

Bus Lane Contraventions (Penalty Charges, Adjudication and Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2005

Failing without reasonable excuse to attend a hearing held by an adjudicator, or to produce any document to an adjudicator.

Vehicle Excise Duty (Immobilisation, Removal and Disposal of Vehicles) Regulations 1997

Failure to rigorously separate the accounts of ground-handling activities from the accounts of other activities in accordance with current commercial practice.

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006

In relation to certain invasive non-native species such as the grey squirrel, ruddy duck or Japanese knotweed, selling any animal or plant, or eggs or seeds.

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