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Whitehall. 1986. Friday afternoon.
It is an impossibly slow day and a government lawyer in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel is trying to complete an urgent drafting task on an Act of Parliament.
Mid-afternoon, he’s almost done except for a few definitions. He’s tired and wants to go home. He dashes off the following definition, throws on his coat, and heads home:
“outer space” includes the moon and other celestial bodies
So there you go.
The totality of existence, including all stars, galaxies and planets; the contents of intergalactic space: cold dark matter, warm dark matter and hot dark matter; black holes, white holes and worm holes; a liberal dusting of Higgs Bosons: all shoehorned into a snappy sentence of just 9 words and a handful of apostrophes in the superbly named Outer Space Act 1986.
God bless that lawyer. Who needs Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein when faced with such legal genius?
What about the poor moon though, tagged on as a mere legislative afterthought? Doesn’t it deserve its own standalone definition given the amount of hard work it puts in everyday—everyday—sloshing water in gargantuan quantities around the planet? Are the tides not good enough? Well, when you are a lawyer in the mid-1980s and you are rushing home to settle down in front of the telly with a cold glass of Blue Nun, then clearly the answer is ‘no’.
This does bring to the fore how often the law is a blunt instrument or ‘missing in action’, whether it be in areas of great technical complexity or in lovely, shiny new industries. How can it legislate for what it doesn’t know? How can it future-proof legislation?
Did Parliamentary Counsel in 1986 consider the likelihood of space tourism in 2014? Should he have? If he actually did so, would the
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