The cost of legislation

by Chris Bertram on May 7, 2004

The UK’s new Sexual Offences Act (2003) came into force this week. This is the law which criminalizes whole swathes of normal behaviour (such as “teenagers kissing”: ). But we’re not supposed to worry about that because the Home Office will issue guidance to the Crown Prosecution Service not to proceed in such cases (and to block any private prosecutions). There’s something disturbing about legislators legislating with the prior intention of issuing guidance not to apply the law, and there’s a lot disturbing about the content. But that isn’t the only remarkable fact. I read the following in “a rather good piece in the Independent”: by John Spencer, Professor of Law at Cambridge:

bq. despite conducting “extensive consultations” and a formal review that consumed £17,500 of public money on research and £31,025 on conferences, the Home Office devised the new law without troubling to obtain or consider any solid information about what is normal in the sex lives of children and young persons.

bq. The review document also contains the following disarming statement: “We also tried to test the opinion of some young people and, at a fairly late stage in the review, had discussions with some Year 10 and Year 11 pupils (aged between 14 and 16) at one school (sadly lack of time meant we could not undertake a wider consultation).”

Despite Spencer’s “despite”, the figure of £48,525 means the Home Office spent _nothing_ on research into this important area. And they only had time to interview a few kids in one school! Unbelievable.



Justin @ RSR 05.07.04 at 1:41 pm

You make some excellent points. This reminds me of the campaign finance reform bill… both parties expected the courts to deal with the more devious and egregious parts of the law… instead,, the courts have upheld some of the most ugly parts of the bill.

The point here: separation of powers is proscribed for tension not assumption and fixing. The system depends on each branch functioning honestly for their own perceived interests, with no pretense. It just doesn’t work.


DJW 05.07.04 at 3:34 pm

What the hell is going on over there? What is the driving social force or logic behind this nonsense? This isn’t the sort of thing I would have associated with Blair, but I’m a very casual observer, from quite afar, of British politics.


Gary Farber 05.07.04 at 5:23 pm

I posted about this four days ago.

I commend Avedon Carol’s (a founder and speaker for Feminists Against Censorship comments to you.


Gary Farber 05.07.04 at 5:29 pm

“This isn’t the sort of thing I would have associated with Blair, but I’m a very casual observer, from quite afar, of British politics.”

It’s most assuredly the sort of thing associated with the Right Honourable David Blunkett, and, indeed, you’ve not been paying attention to the Home Offices’ many moves to restrict civil liberties and remove protections from law, ever since Blair came into office.


jdw 05.07.04 at 5:44 pm

_What the hell is going on over there? What is the driving social force or logic behind this nonsense?_

Seems pretty forward-thinking to me. A spokesman:

“We accept that genuinely mutually agreed, non-exploitative sexual activity between teenagers does take place and in many instances no harm comes from it.”

Can anybody imagine an American politician saying that?


bryan 05.07.04 at 6:39 pm

damn that ashcroft.


mdog 05.07.04 at 9:17 pm

The above quote about mutually agreed apon, non-exploitive sexuality would be awesome if it came from anywhere other than the state. sexual respect is way too important to let the government fuck it up. eg look at hate crimes legislation: written with liberatory intentions and now used against anti-capitalist, earth and animal-liberation direct actionists.


Idiot/Savant 05.07.04 at 11:47 pm

So, does this mean that it will be illegal for politicians to kiss babies?


Robin Green 05.09.04 at 10:47 am

Hmm. The government seems to say the law will never be enforced against teenagers kissing or touching.

But I wonder if they would now allow, say, a Tatu concert, seeing as Tatu often engage in kissing on-stage and are (or were) underage – and seeing as how that makes their show in a way premissed on an act which is now illegal under British law.

Of course, some might say that banning Tatu concerts is a good idea.

More seriously, I can sympathise with the government here. They’re trying to avoid child abusers being able to get off via loopholes.

As with abortion, it’s impossible to draw a universally-applicable and universally-acceptable moral line on underage sexual activity – so context-sensitive discretion needs to be exercised by the CPS and by courts.

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