The rule of law is among the victims of unnecessarily complex legislation, the government’s chief legislation-drafter warns today.
In a report examining the causes of complexity, Richard Heaton, first parliamentary counsel and permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, says the ‘current degree of difficulty’ is neither inevitable nor acceptable.
‘Excessive complexity hinders economic activity, creating burdens for individuals, businesses and communities. It obstructs good government. It undermines the rule of law.’
The report is published to coincide with the launch of a ‘good law’ initiative by the Cabinet Office. The initiative aims to ensure that legislation ‘is as accessible as possible and consider what more can be done to improve readability’.
The review cites research by the National Archives suggesting that the comprehension level of legislative texts was ‘generally quite low’ even among the legally qualified.
However it finds no single cause of excessively complex legislation. ‘Complicated procedures, imperfect interactions between the stakeholders involved and the unpredictability of external factors all contribute.’
Heaton notes that while there are many reasons for adding complexity to legislation ‘there is no compelling incentive to create simplicity or to avoid making an intricate web of laws even more complex’.
He concludes: ‘That is something I think we must reflect upon.’