Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Judge Actions by their Effects

In an earlier post Glory Glory Knockdown Argument, I mentioned the curious detail of recent UK legislation, whereby infringements of laws restricting free speech are based on the effects produced by the speech on the audience.

In his latest article, This is now a protest for democracy, George Monbiot points out how the legal definition of harassment has now been extended to include pretty much anything that causes people to become alarmed or distressed. Any act of protest aimed at drawing some issue to public attention can now be interpreted as harassment.

We have always known that politicians and businessmen get upset when they are challenged, heckled or mocked. Two years ago, anti-terror legislation was used to suppress heckling at the Labour Party conference. Some people might be alarmed or distressed at the absence of heckling or even serious debate, but presumably that doesn't count.

POSIWID turns the law into a social construction - the legality of our actions depends on the subjective reactions of other people. We cannot tell in advance whether our words or actions will be illegal. Risk-averse law-abiding citizens will be careful to avoid causing offence to anyone - even those who deserve it. Meanwhile crooks and wide-boys will issue injunctions, and none will dare speak against them, except in carefully coded form.

1 comment:

Scribe said...

Should label this one under "political correctness". The extent to which criticism is generally thought of as something-to-be-avoided now boggles my mind silly. Failure is not an option - it's an insult.

We forget that we "mature" through criticism. Not only do we learn to do things better, but we also learn what criticism to ignore. "Thick-skin" is a thing of the past, unfortunately.