"So far there haven't been any prosecutions for FGM, so would you argue that the law about FGM should be done away with, too?" That question was put to me in comments made by a commenter to yesterday`s blogpost. It set me thinking. Should the law or should legislation be enacted by parliament to, using the easily understood colloquialism, make a statement? Take the example of early day motions which are motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons for which no day has been fixed. As there is no specific time allocated to EDMs very few are debated. However many attract a great deal of public interest and media coverage. EDMs are used to put on record the views of individual MPs or to draw attention to specific events or campaigns. Topics covered by EDMs vary widely.By attracting the signatures of other MPs they can be used to demonstrate the level of parliamentary support for a particular cause or point of view. MPs, especially those new to parliament, besides putting their cause in the public domain can put themselves into the public eye and add some lines to their website about how much effort they`re making to justify the votes of their constituents. But the law should not be about making statements. The rule of law is the legal principle that it is law which should govern a nation as opposed to being governed by decisions of individual government officials. It primarily refers to the influence and authority of law within society particularly as a constraint upon behaviour including behaviour of government officials.The law serves many purposes and functions in society. Four principal purposes and functions are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Thelaw is a guidepost for minimally acceptable behaviour in society. It serves nobody if it merely advocates the opinion of the current legislature.
The abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation has been against the law in this country for over thirty years but the history of its prosecution or rather non prosecution is abysmal: a single case prosecuted and the defendant was acquitted. It has brought the law into disrepute. It has been treated with disdain. It is illegal to smoke in a car when there are child passengers. Being drunk in a pub is surprisingly illegal. These two activities are and were driven by public opinion. In the former to emphasise the dangers of so called passive smoking where there is some debate as to cause and effect and in the latter to satisfy Victorian morality activists of the evils of working class drunkenness. For different reasons prosecutions are virtually non existent. The Hunting Act 2004 was enacted by Labour under Tony Blair to appease his left wing. It was therefore a demonstration of power and intent rather than legislation to improve the well being of society. It was for the very mirror in reasoning that persuaded Theresa May to put in its election manifesto earlier this year that if the Tories won a majority she would allow a free vote to overturn that act. 61.8% of all organised hunters charged with Hunting Act offences have escaped conviction.86 of the 165 Hunting Act charges made were dropped either before or at trial [52%]. 40 of these related to the big Heythrop trial. Complete statistics can be accessed here. There are other such laws that might be regarded similarly. So to answer the question at the beginning of this post my response is that if legislation is enacted the will and the means to prosecute it must be available for all the law enforcement bodies associated. Failing to do so is a luxury we cannot afford. It is tantamount to rule of the mob where the mob is the lobby group or groups with most to gain for their own sometimes nefarious purposes.