04 March 2010

The Supermajority

One of the most significant problems with the government over the last decade has been its legislative diarrhoea. Legislation has been enacted and amended at an astonishing rate, prompting the editors of the 2009 Archbold Handbook to add the following preface:
It has been a recurring theme of the preface to this work that there is far too much criminal legislation. The willingness of the Labour Government to continue its practice of legislating by trial and error has shown no signs of abating even in its eleventh year in office ... The state of the criminal statute book is a disgrace. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 is the usual hotchpotch of measures, with no theme, with much of the detail tucked away from close scrutiny in the schedules, and consisting in large part of textual amendment to earlier legislation. Much of the amendment is by way of undoing this Government's earlier legislation.
I've been considering if there is any way of avoiding such a situation. One posibility I've been mulling over is the use of supermajorities. Here's one idea:

Require the support of two-thirds of those in parliament before legislation is enacted, but allow legislation to be repealed with a simple majority.

Some of the benefits I would envisage would be:
  • Making it easier to repeal legislation than enact it would hopefully thin out the statute book, making the law easier to understand.
  • Making it harder to enact legislation would slow down the rapid changes in law which have been occuring.
  • Requiring broader support for new legislation would force governments to seek wider input from across parliament, producing more widely considered legislation.
  • Having legislation which has wider support would reduce the tendency for governments to amend it when power changes hands, producing a more stable and predictable body of legislation.
Of course, one downside is that it could result in parties deliberately blocking legislation for party political reasons, but hopefully, such actions would be limited by the fact that a failure to operate a working government would begin to reflect badly on all involved, not just the largest party. In any case, I would still tend to prefer too little legislation than too much.

Are there any other major down sides I've missed?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

None, except case law states that Parliament, being a supreme authority, cannot bind itself, although obiter comments in R v Jackson seem to leave the question open.