I think that we have quite enough laws. Elected or appointed politicians think that the answer to a new threat is to make new laws. I suppose that is perfectly natural way to think if you have law making powers, especially if you are elected to have law making powers, but if the answer to new threats was to make new laws, then there would be no new threats, ever.
You see, there is nothing new under the sun and in the field of human behaviour and especially criminal behaviour, every so called new type of threat is no more than a variation of a very old theme.
The Home Secretary is Teresa May, and she seems to have fallen into the trap that new laws will stop old crimes from happening. She wants the power to make orders against groups that cannot currently be proscribed should she”reasonably believe” that they intend to incite religious or racial hatred, to threaten democracy or if there is a pressing need to protect the public from harm, either from a risk of violence, public disorder, harassment or other criminal acts.
The powers she seeks are very broad; the hurdle that she would have to jump to use the powers proposed is very low – more of a step rather than a jump. The idea is to stop criminal behaviour before it builds up a head of steam and that idea inevitably conflicts with the concept that we are free to express our own ideas, whether or not they incite religious hatred, threaten democracy (or more accurately that little amount of democracy that exists every five of so years when we get to vote) or protect the public from harm perceived by the government.
The most worrying aspect of Mrs May’s proposals is this; new laws which impact on freedom may be safely enacted only if we can guarantee that the government that enforces them will always be benign and honourable. Mrs May may well be a good person, only willing to enforce laws against freedom of expression in circumstances where she genuinely and reasonable perceives a threat (or is advised that there is such a threat) but there is no guarantee that a reasonable person will always be Home Secretary, or that Mrs May will always remain a reasonable person.
Perhaps Mrs May’s idea is no more than a sop to her party and an encouragement to society that governments have the power to stop bad things from happening. Governments do not have such a power. At best it can organise and resource police so that criminals are prosecuted with meaningful sentences and that there is as far as can be managed a certainty of prosecution for every crime.
I have always thought that the certainty of punishment is the greatest deterrent to crime. You do not increase the certainty of punishment by making new laws; Mrs May should reconsider her proposals. Discretion curtailing freedom of expression is not a way for a free society to retain its freedom