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The law is the law.

On why interfering with true equality before the law in the name of equality is wholly unacceptable

It is bad enough that the hapless citizenry are forced to endure an endless torrent of laws and regulations which means that even someone with a full time staff of lawyers would have difficulty keeping up with exactly what they were supposed to do and not supposed to do.

However at least thus far, despite occasional governmental carping at judges who are carrying out an Act (the Human Rights Act) which Parliament itself passed, there has been no interference with the principle that laws are to be enforced without fear or favour without regard to status, class, sex, race, religion, political affiliation or any other individual specific characteristics. Nor of course should there be. Once the law starts to distinguish between its application to different types of people as a matter of general principle then the rule of law will cease to be that.

Now all of that is put at risk by the so-called equality law to be brought into force at the instigation of Harriet Harman.

Even by her unique standards, this is something of a tour of force. A cynic might suggest that the only reason this is being put forward is to curry favour with the left/politically correct wing of the Labour party, secure in the knowledge that the government is unlikely to survive to actually be in a position to enforce any of this, and with a eye to the main chance and the inevitable bloodletting and leadership election which would follow from a Labour defeat. However one has to take and treat this at apparent face value.

One might have thought that when the economy teeters on the brink and the monthly public sector borrowing has exceeded sums which previously would have been thought dangerously unacceptable for an entire year, that anything which imposed further burdens upon business so as to risk economic recovery would be wholly unacceptable. To do so would not so much be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic as setting fire to the lifeboats themselves.

However that is a question of policy. Despite the cost of bureaucracy and economic drag of the Equality Act, together with the inevitable waste of time and public money that will be involved in actually setting out the policies required to implement the statute and working out how they will be "effective" in practice (quite apart from the impact this may have on competitiveness) that is not really the principal objection to the Bill. The real objection is that this astonishing project in social engineering will actually destroy the idea that laws are to be applied equally.

An example that has been cited are the planning laws. Apparently it is envisaged that "disadvantaged" groups such as "travellers" would as a matter of general principle have planning laws applied differently to them. However once this so-called consequence is accepted, it is by no means clear which groups it will apply to or with what consequence. For example, if you are an asylum seeker or a member of an ethnic minority that could be termed disadvantaged in socio-economic terms, and you have a large family, does that mean that normal planning principles should not be applied so as to prevent you from extending your home to accommodate either an increasing family or relatives joining you from abroad?

The problems that this law would cause are numerous and manifest. Firstly it destroys at a stroke the idea of equality before the law. Even if this is undertaken through some misguided idea that it is likely in practice to improve the lot of the disadvantaged generally, it is still objectionable in principle. Once you start to say that the law generally should be applied in a different way to different categories of people you are undermining the entire basis upon which the rule of law rests in the first place. Moreover this will not only render the law uncertain, but involve judges in some form of policy and socio-economic determination which they are neither qualified to undertake nor indeed mandated by the electorate to do. The risk is that the judiciary will be regarded as quasi politicians, and so the two great planks and glories of our legal system, namely the rule of law and the independence and integrity of the judiciary, may end up being called into question by the public. A more catastrophic sequence of events it is difficult to imagine.

Apparently at the moment there is some suggestion that an investigation is going on into whether Ms Harman drove into a parked vehicle whilst using a mobile telephone and drove away without giving the full particulars required by law. I have no idea as to whether there is any truth in such a story, and of course were it not for Ms Harman's high profile such a matter would have been most unlikely to be reported in the press. However the only sort of equality law which I think should be generally applied, is that the law treats everyone the same, so that if the police are looking at any event arising from her driving then Ms Harman should be treated no worse and no better because of her position than any other motorist would be.

If we want to improve the lot of everyone in society including the poorest, respecting absolute equality under the law is the best way to do it.

Michael J. Booth QC