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Long term strategic mechanisms to prevent the creation of unnecessary offences

Comment 29th July 2010

The explosion of legislation and the creation of additional offences under the last government is a symptom of an underlying problem.  Government and parliament are compelled to introduce new legislation as a way of proving that they are taking an active role.

Removing individual offences will not curb this inherent momentum.  Mechanisms are required to prevent the unnecessary proliferation of legislation.  Parliamentary scrutiny is not sufficient, even if there is a change in stance to ask "is this bill really required" at the committee stage.

Strategic mechanisms are required to reverse the overall trend.  Examples can be found in other democracies and lessons can be learned from business.

Sunset Rules

The Clinton administration introduced "sunset" rules: i.e. new government agencies were automatically closed after 3 years unless a specific case was made for their retention.  A similar rule could be applied to all new offences.  After 36 months if charges had not been brought under the act, or if the number of charges did not meet a previously defined threshhold, the act would automatically become void.  In addition, any act would need to be specifically renewed after 36 months.

Lessons from business

Business process re-engineering focuses on reducing business processes and making them more efficient. The drive is not only to cut unnecessary regulation but also to prevent the built in tendency to proliferate documentation.  A simple mechanism is to only allow the introduction of a new process or form if 3 existing processes or documents are removed.  Over time this prevents unnecessary  regulation and drives a slimming down of the processes and process documentation.

An identical approach to legislation and offences defined by statute would over the long term reduce the burden of legislation and ensure that the legislation that did exist was more highly focused.

Why does this matter?

The proliferation of legislation, creating additional regulation and criminal offences, is an inbuilt characteristic of government.  A paradigm shift is required to change the attitude to legislation.  My comments suggest mechanisms from other democracies and from business that could help change the view of legislation to "only if it is essential".

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