Making criminals of us all? Or perhaps not...

In Tuesday's blog post, I discussed that in recent years we have seen a large increase in the amount of laws and criminal offences in those laws. Businesses have been the targets of many new criminal offences in many areas.

However, even the cleverest boffins—a bit of tabloid-speak for you there—don't really know how many criminal laws there are.

A bit worrying really.

As you can see from the first chart below, estimates of the amounts of offences vary between about 7,000 offences to well over 10,000 offences.

That's 'only' a difference of 3,000-odd offences.

When asked how many offences are there, even the Attorney-General's office has said in the past that it has no idea. You can hardly see the same answer to the question, 'what's this quarter's GDP?':

Oh it must be lots and lots. I'm sure that it is quite big really. Gosh, there's a question.

Hardly what you would call business-friendly: most businesses I know want to comply with the law. They want certainty.

howmanylaws

In 2012, the academic Viktor Tadros noted this problem and stated:

[the goal that] the criminal law as a whole is one that we can have confidence in is increasingly being set back by the range of trivial offences, obscurely defined and chaotically distinguished, which ensure that the criminal law as a whole is properly treated with suspicion

Not good for business, particularly when so many new offences are being created; whether as a result or European or international obligations or otherwise:

frenziedlawmaking

1,760 offences in total in 2010-11: that's a fair few new offences.

Although perhaps all is not as bad as it would first seem. Why? Well, many of the offences do not apply to all businesses. Some apply to certain public bodies only.

And many of the offences are in specific areas only:

whatareas

If you are a farmer, then you arguably need to be worried about the above graph. As if getting up at 5am, 7 days a week wasn't enough stress to start with.

On the other hand, the amount of new laws relating to sales of goods is considerably less; coming in at number 10 on the above list with 34 new criminal offences in the year 2010-11.

Now, many of these offences might be regarded as being trivial or 'over-the-top'. In many cases, I would agree with you; but once they are enacted, there isn't always a great deal that you can do to change them—at least in the first couple of years of an offence being created.

So what should businesses do?

  • Firstly, even though the law might often be unclear (or unfair) ensure that your business complies with the letter, and, if possible, the spirit, of the laws that apply to it. Failure to do so can be a criminal offence but can also result in awful PR.
  • Secondly, be pro-active. The government usually consults industry when formulating new laws. Sometimes, its hands are tied as it is simply implementing European legislation; however, it often does have some discretion. Help it use that discretion wisely! Try to get involved if you can. A good start is to contribute to any government or industry consultations.

New laws will always happen. Try to make them work for you!

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