Repeal and replace Sunday Trading Act 1994

The 1994 Act established the current compromise, where large shops can only open for 6 hours on Sunday while smaller shops are free to open as they please.

At the time this was a sensible compromise as the anti-Sunday trading block was big enough that we might otherwise still have essentially no Sunday trading at all. 16 years later, society has changed a great deal. As a general principle I feel that any and all laws based principally on religious precepts ought to be repealed.

The current restrictions on Sunday trading are unnecessary and harmful to larger businesses. They are based on an old-fashioned view of the world that is no longer shared by the majority of British people, many of whom subscribe to religions with a different (and legally unprotected) holy day, or to no religion at all.

I propose the repeal of the 1994 Act and its replacement with a new Act that repeals all previous restrictions on Sunday trading but which introduces a universal protection for workers to avoid them being coerced into working on the holy day of their established religion if they have one.

Why is this idea important?

The 1994 Act established the current compromise, where large shops can only open for 6 hours on Sunday while smaller shops are free to open as they please.

At the time this was a sensible compromise as the anti-Sunday trading block was big enough that we might otherwise still have essentially no Sunday trading at all. 16 years later, society has changed a great deal. As a general principle I feel that any and all laws based principally on religious precepts ought to be repealed.

The current restrictions on Sunday trading are unnecessary and harmful to larger businesses. They are based on an old-fashioned view of the world that is no longer shared by the majority of British people, many of whom subscribe to religions with a different (and legally unprotected) holy day, or to no religion at all.

I propose the repeal of the 1994 Act and its replacement with a new Act that repeals all previous restrictions on Sunday trading but which introduces a universal protection for workers to avoid them being coerced into working on the holy day of their established religion if they have one.

Review all Strict Liability offences

A strict liability offence is one where you commit the offence without the need for mens rea – the intention of committing the offence (more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strict_liability).

When an offence is a strict liability offence, you commit it by the simple act of contravening the law, whether you intended to or not. A common use of this provision is for traffic laws such as speeding – you cannot claim that you didn't realise the limit was 30 or that you didn't notice you were doing 40, if you are clocked doing 40 in a 30 zone you are guilty, full stop.

In some cases this is a necessary evil. While in general principle prosecuting someone for an action they did not intend to commit is odious, sometimes it needs to be done, otherwise the law becomes unenforceable. This is, indeed, the reason why strict liability was introduced in the first place.

Many strict liability laws can still recognise the lack of mens rea and may treat the defendant differently if it cannot be proved. For example, see the difference between murder and manslaughter. Both are illegal killings but only one has or can prove mens rea.

A number of offences which have strict liability ought to be either amended to require mens rea, or given specific statutory defences. In particular:

  • Possession of a firearm – you find a gun in a bin, you take it to your local police, they thank you and then arrest you for illegal possession of a firearm. Don't believe me? See this.
  • Possession of extreme porn – man finds animal porn on his PC, reports it to the police, gets arrested and charged for possession. Expert witness later proves it was downloaded by a virus.
  • Man visits prostitute who appears quite willing and happy to be doing what she is doing (as she is entitled to by law – you are aware that prostitution is legal in this country, right?). Later turns out she was trafficked into the country. Man gets arrested and goes to jail.

To name but three examples. There are many more. Now in all these cases you can see that there is room for interpretation. The man with the gun might in fact have bought it from a dealer and regretted his action, handing it in to the police with an excuse. Not likely, but possible. The porn guy might have been browsing BeastPorn.com and then realised what he was doing was illegal, and wanted an excuse. So he called the police rather than take the sensible step of nuking his hard drive. Not likely, but possible. The third guy might have been well aware that his date for the evening was in fact in the hands of Albanian mobsters, and just be looking for a way out of jail. Not likely, but possible.

In all those cases, you could investigate and usefully determine the truth, and hence establish mens rea. Strict liability is there primarily because the lawmaker felt that someone getting off because intent couldn't be proved would be unacceptable. This is almost always a political rather than practical decision. Speeding is strict liability because you either do it or you don't. But in all the above cases and plenty of other strict liability offences, there are additional circumstances which should be taken into account, and hence the strict liabilty provision for those offences ought to be removed. In such cases, better a guilty man go free than that an innocent man be convicted – and here I mean guilty and innocent in terms of intent, not whether or not the offence was strictly committed.

I propose that all laws with strict liabilty provisions be reviewed to see if that provision is in the best interests of society and the individual, with an automatic predisposition that unless this can be proved, the strict liability provision should be abandoned.

Why is this idea important?

A strict liability offence is one where you commit the offence without the need for mens rea – the intention of committing the offence (more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strict_liability).

When an offence is a strict liability offence, you commit it by the simple act of contravening the law, whether you intended to or not. A common use of this provision is for traffic laws such as speeding – you cannot claim that you didn't realise the limit was 30 or that you didn't notice you were doing 40, if you are clocked doing 40 in a 30 zone you are guilty, full stop.

In some cases this is a necessary evil. While in general principle prosecuting someone for an action they did not intend to commit is odious, sometimes it needs to be done, otherwise the law becomes unenforceable. This is, indeed, the reason why strict liability was introduced in the first place.

Many strict liability laws can still recognise the lack of mens rea and may treat the defendant differently if it cannot be proved. For example, see the difference between murder and manslaughter. Both are illegal killings but only one has or can prove mens rea.

A number of offences which have strict liability ought to be either amended to require mens rea, or given specific statutory defences. In particular:

  • Possession of a firearm – you find a gun in a bin, you take it to your local police, they thank you and then arrest you for illegal possession of a firearm. Don't believe me? See this.
  • Possession of extreme porn – man finds animal porn on his PC, reports it to the police, gets arrested and charged for possession. Expert witness later proves it was downloaded by a virus.
  • Man visits prostitute who appears quite willing and happy to be doing what she is doing (as she is entitled to by law – you are aware that prostitution is legal in this country, right?). Later turns out she was trafficked into the country. Man gets arrested and goes to jail.

To name but three examples. There are many more. Now in all these cases you can see that there is room for interpretation. The man with the gun might in fact have bought it from a dealer and regretted his action, handing it in to the police with an excuse. Not likely, but possible. The porn guy might have been browsing BeastPorn.com and then realised what he was doing was illegal, and wanted an excuse. So he called the police rather than take the sensible step of nuking his hard drive. Not likely, but possible. The third guy might have been well aware that his date for the evening was in fact in the hands of Albanian mobsters, and just be looking for a way out of jail. Not likely, but possible.

In all those cases, you could investigate and usefully determine the truth, and hence establish mens rea. Strict liability is there primarily because the lawmaker felt that someone getting off because intent couldn't be proved would be unacceptable. This is almost always a political rather than practical decision. Speeding is strict liability because you either do it or you don't. But in all the above cases and plenty of other strict liability offences, there are additional circumstances which should be taken into account, and hence the strict liabilty provision for those offences ought to be removed. In such cases, better a guilty man go free than that an innocent man be convicted – and here I mean guilty and innocent in terms of intent, not whether or not the offence was strictly committed.

I propose that all laws with strict liabilty provisions be reviewed to see if that provision is in the best interests of society and the individual, with an automatic predisposition that unless this can be proved, the strict liability provision should be abandoned.

Revert to the Protection of Children Act 1978

Over recent years we have seen the definition of 'child pornography' stretched beyond all credibility. The 1978 Protection of Children Act made the simple possession of indecent images illegal, where to be indecent the image had to:

1. Depict an actual person younger than the age of consent (then, and still, 16 years of age)

2. Depict them in a sexual context (that is, the material was produced for the purposes of arousal and is thus 'pornographic')

This was a simple and clear definition. You could easily know what was legal and what was not. Any person old enough to consent to sex could be photographed without danger of being caught by the Act. Simple child nudity of the sort that might appear in holiday photos or family photos of very young children was excluded.

The Act did precisely what it set out to do – protected children. By allowing police to arrest individuals for possession of actual child abuse images, it made it possible for them to target those who produced and supported the production of such material.

Since the 1978 Act, we have had a slew of amendments and new legislation that:

1. Created the notion of the pseudo-image. This is an image which is doctored in some way to make it appear to be an indecent image of a child when in fact it wasn't.

2. Criminialised material where the person depicted looks like (or could be interpreted to look like) a child. An image of a 20-something porn star dressed in a schoolgirl outfit and acting young could be considered child pornography depending on the context.

3. Changed the definition of 'child' to include persons over the age of consent but under 18, thus creating a legal anomaly where a person may legally consent to sex but cannot be photographed doing so, and retrospectively criminalising previously legal material including back-copies of newspapers and top-shelf magazines that featured 16 and 17-year old models.

4. Changed the interpretation of 'indecent' to include simple nudity or even 'provocative poses' by fully-clothed subjects, thus making innocent family pictures potential 'child pornography'.

5. Allowed material depicting imaginary characters – computer-generated or cartoon – who were (or might be construed to be) underage to be prosecuted as 'child pornography'.

6. Most recently, attempting to make written material simply describing any of the above equivalent to 'child pornography'.

Even the most cursory consideration of these changes will reveal that the clear intent of these changes to the law is to outlaw any material which pedophiles – or 'potential' pedophiles – might possibly find arousing. If you follow this route to its logical conclusion you ought to make any photograph or description of a child illegal, and lock all children away from public view lest someone become aroused at the sight of them.

This single-minded witch-hunting of the unseen but ever-threatening pedo-under-the-bed does not make children safer. Indeed, most of the changes have been made to permit the prosecution of individuals who have not harmed children at all. Its purpose is clear – it is thoughtcrime legislation, designed to satisy the baying calls of the gutter press and to keep CEOP and similar agencies in business.

It is now effectively impossible to know if a particular image is illegal or not. There is no safe standard. A picture of a fully-clothed adult may be child porn if they happen to be dressed and posed in a particular way. Offences being now largely based on 'context' mean that until it goes before a jury, you cannot be sure you're safe. People are being sent to jail as pedophiles for 'offences' which, only a few years ago, would have been laughable and which most certainly have not involved any actual children coming to harm.

My proposal is simple. Repeal and amend the various acts as necessary to return the definition of child pornography to that of the 1978 Protection of Children Act, and let the police get on with the business of actually protecting children and catching child abusers.

Why is this idea important?

Over recent years we have seen the definition of 'child pornography' stretched beyond all credibility. The 1978 Protection of Children Act made the simple possession of indecent images illegal, where to be indecent the image had to:

1. Depict an actual person younger than the age of consent (then, and still, 16 years of age)

2. Depict them in a sexual context (that is, the material was produced for the purposes of arousal and is thus 'pornographic')

This was a simple and clear definition. You could easily know what was legal and what was not. Any person old enough to consent to sex could be photographed without danger of being caught by the Act. Simple child nudity of the sort that might appear in holiday photos or family photos of very young children was excluded.

The Act did precisely what it set out to do – protected children. By allowing police to arrest individuals for possession of actual child abuse images, it made it possible for them to target those who produced and supported the production of such material.

Since the 1978 Act, we have had a slew of amendments and new legislation that:

1. Created the notion of the pseudo-image. This is an image which is doctored in some way to make it appear to be an indecent image of a child when in fact it wasn't.

2. Criminialised material where the person depicted looks like (or could be interpreted to look like) a child. An image of a 20-something porn star dressed in a schoolgirl outfit and acting young could be considered child pornography depending on the context.

3. Changed the definition of 'child' to include persons over the age of consent but under 18, thus creating a legal anomaly where a person may legally consent to sex but cannot be photographed doing so, and retrospectively criminalising previously legal material including back-copies of newspapers and top-shelf magazines that featured 16 and 17-year old models.

4. Changed the interpretation of 'indecent' to include simple nudity or even 'provocative poses' by fully-clothed subjects, thus making innocent family pictures potential 'child pornography'.

5. Allowed material depicting imaginary characters – computer-generated or cartoon – who were (or might be construed to be) underage to be prosecuted as 'child pornography'.

6. Most recently, attempting to make written material simply describing any of the above equivalent to 'child pornography'.

Even the most cursory consideration of these changes will reveal that the clear intent of these changes to the law is to outlaw any material which pedophiles – or 'potential' pedophiles – might possibly find arousing. If you follow this route to its logical conclusion you ought to make any photograph or description of a child illegal, and lock all children away from public view lest someone become aroused at the sight of them.

This single-minded witch-hunting of the unseen but ever-threatening pedo-under-the-bed does not make children safer. Indeed, most of the changes have been made to permit the prosecution of individuals who have not harmed children at all. Its purpose is clear – it is thoughtcrime legislation, designed to satisy the baying calls of the gutter press and to keep CEOP and similar agencies in business.

It is now effectively impossible to know if a particular image is illegal or not. There is no safe standard. A picture of a fully-clothed adult may be child porn if they happen to be dressed and posed in a particular way. Offences being now largely based on 'context' mean that until it goes before a jury, you cannot be sure you're safe. People are being sent to jail as pedophiles for 'offences' which, only a few years ago, would have been laughable and which most certainly have not involved any actual children coming to harm.

My proposal is simple. Repeal and amend the various acts as necessary to return the definition of child pornography to that of the 1978 Protection of Children Act, and let the police get on with the business of actually protecting children and catching child abusers.