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Repeal all laws that were introduced to “send a message”

Comment 14th July 2010

Many laws have been introduced in recent years in order to "send a message" to certain members of society that a particular form of behaviour, or worse, holding certain beliefs, is considered unacceptable by "right thinking" people. All such laws should be repealed unless it can be shown that they have resulted in a significant number of convictions.

Why does this matter?

There is little evidence that making something illegal stops it happening. After all, murder has been illegal for millenia but still happens with regrettable frequency. Only two things reduce the incidence of unwanted behaviours: a high likelihood of being caught and punished or (as happened with drink driving) a change in public attitudes leading to increased peer pressure. Allowing politicians to introduce laws simply to "send a message" has several drawbacks. It wastes government and local authority officials' time and taxpayers' money. It distracts the police from more important work. It has no effect on offending, since the offenders are not reading The Guardian every day to look out for any new messages from politicians – and even if the message was heard it would be ignored. Perhaps most importantly, it allows politicians to delude themselves they are "taking firm action" when, in fact the problem (if indeed there actually is a real problem) goes on regardless.

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