In recent years British society has become increasingly litigious. Both the government and the public increasingly turn to the law to resolve problems. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has beaten even his predecessor’s record, introducing 2,823 new laws during his first year in office. This is the highest record for law-making by anyone at Number 10, and 40% higher than the annual average created by Margaret Thatcher. Meanwhile, disputes between neighbours, and often trivial harassment cases, are increasingly likely to come to court.
This legalistic approach to social and political problems is causing disquiet, however. Critics question whether fines or imprisonment are always the answer to interpersonal problems. Questions are being raised about the impact new laws are having on British justice, and the individuals’ relationship to the state and to each other. The use of the law for political ends is also said to be corrupting the criminal justice system, with the abolition of double jeopardy (so that the accused can now be tried twice), proposals to increase the detention without trial of terrorist suspects to 42 days and the rise of race and religious hate laws. A drive to increase the conviction rate in cases such as rape, the increased prominence of the victim in harassment law and the trial process are also attracting criticism as well as support. Are we overburdening the law with social and political problems, and undermining it in the process?
Watch the session video...
leading criminal and human rights barrister; regular columnist, The Times and Observer; editor, Criminal Bar Quarterly
professor of law and director, Kent Law Clinic, University of Kent, Canterbury
barrister; author with particular expertise in the area of Harassment and Religious Discrimination law
investigative journalist; director, The Queen & Us
Ever tried selling a grey squirrel, impersonating a traffic warden, importing Polish potatoes or disturbing a pack of eggs without permission? If you do, you will be breaking the law.Daily Mail Reporter, Daily Mail, 5 September 2008
Afghan spy plane deaths were unlawful, historic test case is to be told.Jamie Doward & Mark Townsend , The Guardian, 31 August 2008
A comprehensive guide to religious discrimination and hatred legislation, this book, by a practising barrister, offers an accessible examination of this controversial area, using a variety of practical examples covering all forms of religious belief.
Neil Addison, Routledge-Cavendish, 7 December 2006
‘Stalker’ has become a joke word in some quarters. A woman who complains of being stalked often means no more than that she is receiving unwanted attention from a former casual lover or perhaps a long-term partner she has just dumped.Tessa Mayes, The Spectator, 16 November 2006
Originally recorded onto tape and now transcribed into a full narrative, with the addition of David Blunkett's contemporary reflections on the political events of the past nine years, "The Blunkett Tapes" are a rigorously honest self-portrait as well as an astonishingly cogent and intimate insight into New Labour's years in power, the personalities, the triumphs and the debates.
David Blunkett, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 15 October 2006
If you say something that somebody else doesn't like, you can be accused of harassment, bullying or invading somebody's private life.Tessa Mayes, spiked, 18 October 2002
The Human Rights Act 1998 is designed to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. This book provides a detailed analysis of the implications of the Act for everyone working within the criminal justice system.
Deborah Cheney, Lisa Dickson, Rupert Skilbeck, Steve Uglow & John Fitzpatrick, Jordans, 29 September 2001
"For one weekend in the year, in the centre of London, it's as if ideas matter, it's as if the world really can be made a better place through the free and energetic exercise of reason."
Austen Ivereigh, Catholic commentator