...free to think freely


9th April 2020

BBC’s defence of Retrospective Legislation

Replying to my complaint about a BBC presenter suggesting retrospective legislation could be a legitimate tool for dealing with terrorism, the BBC failed to condemn the concept outright. Instead, it maintained that “if there is a high terror threat then such measures may be appropriate.”

As a freedom-loving campaign, the DDC can never accept that. There can be no circumstance in which Retrospective Legislation could be appropriate, because it undermines the fundamental nature of a free society. The possibility of Retrospective Legislation raises the prospect that anyone to whom a government took exception could be criminalised for something they did that was not illegal at the time — even something they did at the behest of a previous government. It makes us all potential prisoners of an unknown future, in which anything we consider normal behaviour could be deemed illegal and backdated to catch us for today’s innocent actions.

While ignorance of the law can be no defence, at least the citizen has the prospect of finding out what the law requires before undertaking any action. Retrospective Legislation takes that basic safeguard away. What you do today could infringe an unknowable future law which would nonetheless cover your action today. You cannot avoid breaking it because you cannot know what it will be, since it does not yet exist to be known.

This would undermine the whole concept of The Rule of Law, since we would, in practice, be governed not by a system applying to government and citizen alike, but by the whims of a government with the power to threaten and bully the citizen subject to retrospective application of power over which the citizen has neither knowledge nor control. It puts the citizen entirely at rulers’ mercy as if there were no law at all.

Even Parliament could not function, since a future Parliament controlled by a future government, could outlaw an action of a previous parliament and have its members arrested and punished for their part in it. Thus it would chill our democracy into fear and politicians would be unable to function with any confidence at all.

That is why, however desirable Retrospective Legislation might look in an isolated individual case, it would be too dangerous a concept to be permissible in any free society. If Retrospective Legislation is available to politicians it creates a threat to our whole political system and way of life which is far bigger then any single case could be. Therefore, it must not be available for the safety of not only individual people, but our whole system of government and the continued existence of a free and fair society.

The Diverse Diversity Campaign opposes the very concept for that reason, and will continue to do so.