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Monday, 5 March 2012

This conspicuous parade of victims makes rational policy-making all but impossible

Who could argue against a new law when it sets out to redress a loophole which saw a young woman - or worse, a child - murdered in cold blood?

The assertion is made. Killers could have been stopped had previous trends been noticed, documented, shared with all relevant authorities, neighbours, prospective partners and employers.

New laws are touted as a solution.  The implicit threat, in wheeling-out the memory of the deceased, is that opposition to such laws will violate the memory of the victim, whose family has campaigned ceaselessly for their loved-one not to have died in vain.

Only a heartless unbalanced fool would argue against this legislation.

And the lure for populist politicians is seemingly irresistible. Presented with a ready-made press campaign to demonstrate their party's commitment to protecting the public, how could any Home Secretary ever resist jumping on the bandwagon?

But attaching a tragedy and a human face to a new law doesn't make that law any more worthy than other causes, many of which also result in numerous deaths per year, each victim a faceless statistic to government ministers; road safety being a typical example.

Nor does it somehow make the side effects of the proposals disappear - it just helps a government spin the collateral consequences as necessary and proportionate.

The simple truth is that we as a society shouldn't expect every senseless act of violence to have a legislative solution.

Yes there is a fine balance, but despite the combined computing power of every processor on the planet we can't predict the future.

There's only so much monitoring and data sharing that is possible without causing serious injustice to many innocent people who may be wrongly classified and e.g. barred from work due to a systemic flaw in the monitoring system or unproven false allegation in the past.

Because rational policy debates are all but impossible when the proposals under discussion are named after the victim we should frown upon any politician who attempts to ride a wave of popularity by not only backing the measures demanded by relatives of the deceased but by allowing a cherished memory to be inextricably linked to new legislation.


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