Recognising bad legislation

Lord Norton

A colleague came up with an interesting observation the other evening: “The longer the title, the worse the Bill.”   

I can see a research project coming on…

8 comments for “Recognising bad legislation

  1. Croft
    06/11/2009 at 1:44 pm

    Sounds logical. Any bill that needs a very long title is either unclear of its intentions/purpose or has been constructed by shoehorning together several unconnected ‘bills’ into a messy and possible incoherent whole.

    Reminds me a little of mission statements. I often thought any public organisation that thinks it needs one should probably be abolished or its leadership sacked. If ‘it’ and its staff need a statement to give them purpose/direction or tell the public what they do something it terribly wrong…!

  2. franksummers3ba
    06/11/2009 at 2:10 pm

    Why not introduce in honor of your colleague the “__________ and Norton Memorial and Amicable Bill For the Preservation and Institution of Parsimony and Elegant Efficiency in Verbage and the Use of Language in Legislation Especially as it relates to the Prohibition of Excessive Length and Unnecessary Words in the Framing and Actual Enunciation of Identifying Legislative Phrases known as ‘the Titles of Bills’ “?

    Perhaps you could end this evil forever…

  3. 06/11/2009 at 2:58 pm

    The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act is a good example of bad legislation. It is failing in its objective of “protecting individuals against being forced to enter into marriage without their free and full consent and for protecting individuals who have been forced to enter into marriage without such consent; and for connected purposes.” [such as other bogus marriages]

    One reason the Act has failed is that it relied upon:

    “63Q Guidance (1) The Secretary of State may from time to time prepare and publish guidance to such descriptions of persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate about:

    (a) the effect of this Part or any provision of this Part; or
    (b) other matters relating to forced marriages.

    (2) A person exercising public functions to whom guidance is given under this section must have regard to it in the exercise of those functions.
    (3) Nothing in this section permits the Secretary of State to give guidance to any court or tribunal.”

    (2) might be a Registrar, but as far as I am aware, the only ‘Guidance’ issued has been to Health Professionals, including:

    “Forced marriage is primarily, but not exclusively, an issue of violence against women. Although throughout this document the term “women” is used to describe anyone who is trapped in, or, under threat of, a forced marriage, much of the guidance can also apply to men. Forced marriage should be regarded as a form of domestic abuse and, depending on age, child abuse. Most cases involve young women and girls aged between 10 and 30, although about 15 per cent of those helped by the Forced Marriage Unit are male.”

    The principle of guidance for marriage preparation should be in the Act, which should be renamed the Forced and Bogus Marriage Act.

    By the time Health Professionals are involved it is too late.

    How can a Registrar – or an official concerned with Immigration and Border Control – distinguish between a couple entering an arranged marriage from a forced one, unless the couple have undertaken a valid assessment with a suitable facilitator who is willing to sign a certificate that he/she believes the couple have completed the programme in good faith?

    • 09/11/2009 at 10:49 am

      The “Guidance for local authorities as relevant third party and information relevant to multi-agency partnership working” for the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act has just been published by the Ministry of Justice.

      It does not mention Registrars or Register Offices, which surprises me.

      If we – as a society – wish to change the culture towards respect for marriage, in our legislation we need to be a lot clearer about the implications of how we are going to support the principle “Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16(2))

      I suggest additional clauses should be added to the Act concerning ‘guidance’:

      (c) Registrars – and Immigration and Border Control Officials – must explain to all couples intending to marry the opportunities and advantages for the parties to participate together in a research-based educational programme of marriage preparation – including an assessment tool or pre-marital inventory that meets international standards.

      (d) this programme is to assist them in preparing for a healthy marriage and to:

      1. confirm to the Registrar or deputy Registrar the voluntary nature of their commitment to the marriage, and
      2. protect themselves and each other against any possible accusations about the marriage being one that is forced or bogus.

      (e) the advantage of obtaining a certificate from the facilitator of the programme of marriage preparation that they have satisfactorily completed both the educational programme and the inventory.

      (f) in the event of a Registrar – or Immigration and Border Control Official – being suspicious that the “Marriage [is not being] entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses” the matter must be referred to the appropriate Local Authority Solicitor.

      I think the Act should be renamed The Forced and Bogus Marriage Act:

      The Daily Mail reports “Mark Rimmer, director of marriage registration at Brent council in North West London, told More4 News: ‘We are seeing a steady increase in the numbers coming through our doors who are producing certificates of approval from the Home Office who have no connection with their partner, sometimes they don’t even share the same language with their partner and are unable to communicate with each other in any way apart from through an interpreter.’ He added: ‘You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to think these are not love matches. These are purely for the purposes of immigration avoidance. We are getting reports from every register office that I talk to that they are seeing people in every week, now that means we are looking at a figure in the thousands, not in the hundreds.'”

  4. 06/11/2009 at 10:48 pm

    There are, indeed, some appalling bills with long titles. Some short titled UK bills, however, still manage to contain legislation which would be considered quite beyond the pale in Zimbabwe.

  5. Senex
    07/11/2009 at 3:56 pm

    I know that up and down the land county councils have a large number of unadopted or private roads that are in a bad state of repair. Questions have been asked in the Commons as to the total number of such roads but government has stated it does not know and has no obligation to report on this.

    The Highways Act 1980 deals with private streets, other legislation deals with developer obligations in making up such streets to a standard where they can be adopted. The ‘Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006’ deals with mechanically propelled vehicles and rights of way but does not deal with traffic volume.

    With the advent of Satnav’s in lorries and cars, owners of such privately maintained thoroughfares find themselves unable to afford repairs caused by heavy goods or other traffic. As councils do not enforce their obligations under Highways Act 1980, 205(1) the damage just gets worse and owner jeopardy increases. It is a most unsatisfactory situation.

    Perhaps legislation could be improved by making reference to the quantity and type of vehicles traversing private roads as an exception that allows councils to adopt, make temporary repairs or to subsidise owners for such repairs. The issues surrounding private ‘streets’ are something the house might consider by way of legislation as MPs are unable to make headway on this in the Commons.

    Ref: Rights of Way and Mechanically Propelled Vehicles
    Part 6: Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006
    Highways Act 1980: Part 11, Making Up of Private Streets

  6. Baronessmurphy
    10/11/2009 at 12:44 pm

    Lord Norton, I have always assumed these very long titles are created by civil servants trained in Dickens’ Little Dorrit’s “Circumlocution Office” – the most important of all Government departments – and a clear ancestor of the Ministry of Administrative Affairs (Jim Hacker’s in ‘Yes Minister’).

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