Pulling Together


Another sticking-plaster law

All parties in the Commons seem united over a Private Member’s Bill to create specific offences of stealing cats and dogs. They argue that as sentient beings these animals should not be treated in law as mere property and should have a higher police priority than the simple theft of goods.

This argument has its merits, but also obvious shortcomings. If cats and dogs as sentient beings deserve a special category in law, why not birds like parrots or farm animals like sheep and pigs? And if they are to be regarded as more than property, are we sure it is appropriate to use the idea of ownership and theft? We used to take such a view of people before Abolition. There is something clearly incoherent here, based on an emotional response to specific expressions rather than a logical analysis of the underlying problem and a universal remedy. The logical poverty of our political classes is blatantly on show in this ill-thought-out response to an ill-defined problem.

None of these politicians rushing into legal folly has taken even a moment to consider that, if cats and dogs are sentient beings, they might have a perspective worth considering. Dogs are pack animals and form an attachment to their owners and families, but I doubt they consider themselves owned. That is a human concept meaning nothing in the canine mind. As for cats, the idea will mean even less to them. They are solitary creatures who deign to live in a house where they are well-fed, but quite happy to go elsewhere for more if they can. They choose us as much as we choose them. No one truly owns a cat, whatever the laws we make in our own arrogance might say.

What we have here is the modern politician’s lame response to the failure of law enforcement – if the law is ignored, disobeyed, or just not enforced, make another one. They seem unable to understand that lawlessness cannot be remedied by changing the law. If the law is not heeded that is the problem; the law already exists but is not being applied. A new law will be equally ignored. The problem is not a lack of law, but a lack of obedience and enforcement.

The reality is simple. It costs no more than a few lawyers’ fees to draft and pass a new law. It costs a lot more to ensure that law is obeyed. Enforcement costs police officers, prosecutors, judges and juries, court buildings and prisons. These things cost real money, and politicians do not want to raise and spend that money, so they pretend passing a new law will make a difference, when it can’t. If law is not obeyed, the number of laws becomes irrelevant. None of them can make a difference if they are not used. Politicians pass laws in the belief they will be seen to have done something when, without enforcement, they have done nothing.

Let us assume that making the theft of a pet more serious than the theft of a watch or car, or some other expensive and precious item, will cause the police to take more serious action. From where, without more resources for the police, will that action come? It will come from a downgrading of something else, from less enforcement of other laws, from more lawlessness and misery for other victims of other crimes. Is that desirable? No, of course not.

We don’t need these pretences something has been done. We don’t need the law to become an untidy mess of populist knee-jerk responses, full of inconsistencies waiting to trap the unwary. We need proper government, properly enforced. We need a police force fit to do its job, properly resourced and supported by a criminal justice system with the capacity to process the result. We need proper effective government, properly paid for by a population not deluded by lying politicians into thinking they can have it on the cheap. We need a system that works, and we need to understand we must fund it if we are to have a civilised and safe society.

We need honest politicians. That’s what we need.

About the Author

K J Petrie has a Full Technological Certificate in Radio, TV and Electronics, an HNC in Digital Electronics and a BA(Hons) in Theological Studies.

His interests include Christian and societal unity, Diverse Diversity, and freedoms from want, from fear, of speech, and of association. He is a member of the Social Democratic Party.

The views expressed here are entirely personal and unconnected with any body to which he belongs.

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