While sympathetic to Roger Smith’s criticisms of symbolic legislation, I was surprised to see him alight on the Offences against the Person Act 1861 as ‘the paradigm of a statute’. This act was described by the late Professor JC Smith as ‘a ragbag of offences brought together from a wide variety of sources with no attempt, as the draftsman frankly acknowledged, to introduce consistency as to substance or as to form’.
In 1993 the Law Commission reported ‘overwhelming support’ for reform of the law of offences against the person. If the legislature were committed to its proper function of improving this country’s laws, the act would long since have been repealed and replaced by a modern criminal code.
Ironically, the very obsession with empty symbolism that Roger Smith decries means that this is an unlikely prospect.
Jon Heath, assistant solicitor, Levins Solicitors, Huyton, Liverpool