Statute overload: are there too many laws?

Saturday 17 October, 14.00 until 15.30, Frobisher Auditorium 2, Barbican Everyday Liberties

At the UK general election, some civil libertarians warned that whatever the outcome or make-up of government, sadly we would likely see our freedoms continue to be eroded. On cue, within days of victory, a swathe of illiberal laws associated with anti-terrorism were announced by returning Home Secretary Teresa May. At the other end of the political spectrum, the left’s great hope Jeremy Corbyn is a pioneer of the politics of behaviour: in 1989 he was one of only seven MPs to support a ban on smoking in public places, and more recently, he has supported hate-speech laws and the ‘Leveson law’ restricting press freedom. Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party, who insist they do politics differently, have made a virtue of legislating on vast areas of life: critics see Scotland’s ‘named person’ legislation as undermining the family and its law on sectarian singing at football matches as absurdly draconian.

Today it seems there is no aspect of life that is not seen as suitable for a new law. Children sexting each other – turn it into a sex crime. Truanting pupils? Drag in the law to punish their parents. Porn online? Reach for the statute book. Climate change, Female Genital Mutilation, migration, fracking, house building, youth joining ISIS – the solution to any and every social problem seems to be legalistic rather than political. Now that the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 has given local authorities greater powers to set and enforce restrictions on any activity held to have a ‘detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality’, councils have been gleefully deploying Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) against buskers and dog-walkers, drinkers and rough sleepers.

As laws beget more laws, and spawn more and more regulations and red tape, how can liberty be preserved ? Or do we need more laws to protect the vulnerable, human rights, a free society? With legislation expanding at such a pace, into areas previously considered private or informal, is there a danger of actually undermining the rule of law? Or can we trust the legal profession, law courts and the police to ensure a proportionate use of new legislation? Why has reaching for the legislative solutions become so popular among politicians? And what laws do you think should get the chop?

Watch the debate

Josie Appleton
director, civil liberties group, Manifesto Club; author, Officious: Rise of the Busybody State

Daniel Lloyd
consumer lawyer; member of the employed bar; co-author, Blackstone's Guide to the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (forthcoming)

Matthew Scott
barrister, Pump Court Chambers; blogs at, shortlisted for The Comment Awards "Best independent blog" 2015

Jon Holbrook
barrister; writer on legal issues; regular contributor to spiked

Produced by
Claire Fox director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
Jon Holbrook barrister; writer on legal issues; regular contributor to spiked
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