Wednesday, 21 January 2009

It's not democracy so much

It's the rule of law that's important.

Yes, yes, I know, democracy is important, we do need to have a system in which we can decide who we're going to hire to go and run the difficult things for us. And as Churchill pointed out, democracy is the worst of these except for all the others.

But the rule of law is even more important than that.

There was widespread anger last week when it emerged that the Government was planning to exempt MPs' expenses from Freedom of Information legislation.

They are the people that have been democratically elected to write the laws so we can't complain too much about their writing a law. However, this bit:

The measure would be applied retrospectively, thus blocking the publication of the receipts.

That's the truly awful thing.

Leave aside all the arguments about whether we should see receipts, whether we shouldn't. The law as it is right now says that, after various court cases, we can see them. To retrospectively change the law is to change the law as it was then, not just as it will be going into the future.

The danger is, of course, that we've a long standing idea that you can only be charged with a crime if that thing was indeed a crime when you did it. This is one of the great protections we have from the possible vindictiveness of those who have been elected. That they can't turn around and make something we've already done illegal after the fact.

Something which all seems to have escaped the current government.

No comments: