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Clause 2 — Protocol about the Law Commission's work

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:50 pm on 16th October 2009.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister 1:50 pm, 16th October 2009

I congratulate Emily Thornberry on seeming to get this Bill through, and I suspect, knowing her part of the world as I do, that this is a hot topic there. It is important that there is some parliamentary accountability for the Government's response to the Law Commission. We are spending money on the work of the Law Commission and, far too often, its excellent reports lie idle. As Mr. Chope mentioned that issue, I just wish to draw attention to some reports that have taken a long time even to look as though they will reach the statute book.

The hon. Lady mentioned the report on blasphemy. I had a small hand in getting that on to the statute book by tabling amendments to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. The 1975 report on sedition has taken 34 years to approach statutory form, as the Government have tabled amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill in the other place, following the amendments tabled in Committee by Lord Lester and on Report here by me. Criminal defamation was dealt with in the 1985 Law Commission report, which recommended-possibly wrongly by today's standards-abolition and replacement with a slightly less draconian criminal provision, and that is covered by the welcome Government amendments tabled this week. Those are two examples of it having taken decades for anything to be done, and they are important issues even though the laws in question are not in use here. Other countries use them in an anti-human rights way and point to the fact that we retain them on our statute book against the advice of the Law Commission as a justification for repressing journalists and freedom of speech.

The only other example that I wish to give is that of the way the Law Commission report on homicide has been handled. It was not satisfactory-my hon. Friend David Howarth is more of an expert than I am and, as he pointed out during the passage of the Coroners and Justice Bill through this House, the Government only half legislated for the Law Commission's provisions, therefore undermining them because they need to be taken as a whole. Further, we did not get a chance to debate revisions to the law of murder on Report stage.

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