Monday, March 2, 2009

Retrospective Legislation

There is nothing more dangerous than the departure from the rule of law. But that is exactly what is being proposed by Harriet Harman and her band of merry men (and women, of course).

The deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman, today stepped up the pressure on the former RBS chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin to waive his £693,000 pension, saying the government aimed to take the money back from him.

"The prime minister has said that it is not acceptable and therefore it will not be accepted," she told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

"It might be enforceable in a court of law, this [pension] contract – but it is not enforceable in the court of public opinion, and that is where the government steps in

Dan Hannan hits the nail firmly on the head...

Harriet Harman is proposing that a law be introduced aimed at a specific individual, retrospectively to criminalise something that was legal at the time. Such laws were known mediaevally as Acts of Attainder: they declared someone guilty after the event, and with no trial. Attainder Bills were introduced very rarely, usually following a gross abuse of ministerial power or an open insurrection

To legislate retrospectively to persecute a particular individual who happens to be the public enemy of the moment is a serious and fundamental demolition of a core pillar of liberty. No Government should be above the law. The fact is Sir Fred should probably not have received the pension he did - he waives his £1.29m salary and £300,000 of share options, but because he retired early his pot increased. But the Government approved the deal, when it perhaps should not have.

Sir Fred is perfectly right when he says that he is not giving anything up voluntarily - he is in the right as far as the law in concerned, and when Government has the power to force people, whether by retrospective legislation or moral coercion, to do something then we have descended into a state of servitude.


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