In recent years we have seen a plethora of laws hit our statute books which, despite the 'assurances' of the Minister responsible and the efforts of all the members of the various committees, working parties and lobby groups, have impacted in 'unintended' ways upon our society. It is refreshing therefore to see that the latest such law has been heavily amended by the Lords. They have struck out the vague and nebulous concept of attempting to legislate against someone 'annoying' another. The vacuous spokesperson from the Home Office, responsible for this latest bit of idiocy, tried to give the 'assurance' that the law would not be used to stifle debate, or to interfere with the right of free speech, religion or 'insulting behaviour'.
Funny, that, because it is the courts which decide what is an is not annoying - not some chinless, faceless and unanswerable wonder from the civil service no doubt up to the elbows in the drafting ink. The Blog Archbishop Cranmer has an excellent article covering the whole mess, entitled "Outlawing 'annoyance' is Cameron's crassest Law". I commend it to readers. He has the details and says it far more eloquently than I can.
As he points out, the way the law was originally drafted had come in for criticism from lawyers and judges from across the political spectrum. It was a licence to anyone and everyone with a stake in political correctness to stifle criticism and debate. When such advice comes from so large a group of legal experts, the government and their civil servants should pay heed - but they didn't. It now remains to be seen whether they accept the Lord's amendment - passed by 306 to 178 with independent Peers, Labour Peers and rebels from the coalition all voting for the change.