The Professors passion for "The Science of Deceit" started here...

Employed by the Ministry (in a covert capacity) to help introduce the law ending dishonest politics, you can see his hand all over the posts of past.

Current political circumstances have forced him to reveal himself and as we speak, MPs are signing up to re-introduce The Elected Representatives (Prohibition of Deception) Bill for debate with over 80,000 voters supporting them.

Posts before Jan '08 are purely for the record (with hindsight they make fascinating reading). Posts after May 13th mark the Professor's return.

Meet the Professor

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Beavering down under

We've been beavering away - searching for any kind of law which prevents government from lying to the electorate and gives the people direct legal action. Surprisingly - we think we've come across such a thing in Australia.

The statute we've found takes it's basic principle from the Trades Descriptions Act - you can't make a statement purporting to be a statement of fact, which is inaccurate or misleading to a material extent. The state of Southern Australia have applied this to election campaigns ! Can you imagine what would happen if we had the same law here ?

All well and good - but we still need to establish a contract or obligation between us (the people) and the Government and then get past Parliamentary Sovereignty (technically, Parliament is the highest court in the land, the source of all law etc. etc.) which means they're immune from prosecution.

These guys have been running the show for a while now (300 plus years) and have evolved a highly sophisticated set of smoke and mirrors that gives us the illusion of accountability via self-regulation (for example the independent investigation of MPs). But as we've discovered from the Parliamentary Commissioner - there are some critical gaps ;

  1. There's no independent investigation of Ministers (the Government)
  2. Independent investigation is a beautiful thing, but it ain't much cop if you have to report to the very people you're investigating and rely on them for sentencing.
Fact is, the combination of both these points and Parliamentary Sovereignty means effectively, our only legal redress is at the General Election once every four or five years.

Now that can't be right - if I employ an agent on a 5 year contract and he breaches one of his fundamental obligations (such as honesty to me) - there's no court in the land which would say I'm stuck with the guy until the five years are up !

Our current thinking is starting to smell like we may have found a blueprint for accountability but need to find a way of making it apply to the government, not just elections. The problem is, to legally overcome "Parliamentary Sovereignty" we've got to ask Parliament to vote for it. One of the comments you posted said something along the lines of "asking turkeys to vote for Christmas". We agree - you've only got to check out the interview with Lord Pendry to see how entrenched the notion of Parliamentary Sovereignty is.

I suppose a law banning misleading or misrepresentative statements in elections would be a good start in any case - when we interviewed Professor Conor Gearty (our guru/oracle on constitutional law) he certainly thought so.

If you've any thoughts/ideas - comment or e-mail us. We're gonna need all the help we can get. In the meantime, we'll be digging into the history and context of the statute we've found and trawling through the law libraries here for anything half relevant.

Martin Bell OBE (and ex MP) will have much to say about this - we'll be posting his interview early next week.


  1. If you can even draft a statute halfway sensible I'll be impressed. Where's this Australian legislation ? How'd you define a lie ?

  2. There's no shortage of legal definitions for a lie - you just need knowledge that the statement is false and the intent to deceive - it's just this isn't easy to prove. That doesn't mean there shouldn't be a law against it.

  3. I agree with groundhog, if they define a lie for other sectors why should it not be applicable to parliament?

  4. Because you couldn't run a government if you were being prosecuted (or scared of being) left right and centre. Now be a good girl and go back to the cocktail bar

  5. now now legal pig. There is a school of thought that runs along the lines of "this lot couldn't do it even if they hadn't lost the instructions"

  6. actually, fuck you legal pig.

    why is it harder to run the country than to run your own life well?

    i get sued all the time for stupid shit, it's about time that the people who let me be investigated by the inland revenue 4 times concurrently understand what its like.

  7. lawbunny for p.m.

  8. I can see just one defence for lying in government - national security. But that's a defence -

    You still have the law.
    They can still be charged.
    They can lodge the defence.
    They can be acquitted.

    Job done.

    Any other exceptions ? Could be public interest... ? Maybe. But again, you still have the law, you prosecute.

  9. As legal pig said - how are you supposed to run a country with constant threat of being sued ?

  10. Hi
    was told about this by my constitutional lecturer. the reason he said they can lie about certain issues is because they can say (MP) they were in the public's interest for them to manipulate truth.

    It makes a mockery of democracy don't you think, mind you there would be much democracy left the way Tony Bush, sorry Blair is passing legislation which clearly infringes our liberies.

    I think a clear exam of this was Iraq's bogus WMD's it is now clear that the Govt manipulated the evidence to 'falsely' make Parliament believe that there were WMD's. Yet after the slaughter of thousans upon thousand no one is held accountable and now they have the tenasity to blame the murders upon sectarian parties.

    As one war criminal was tried (Saddam Hussain), I feel that Blair and Bush should also be brought before the Hague and tried as what the are war mongering criminals. But i would'nt hold my breath as it's one rule for one and another for everyone else.

  11. bleeding obvious3 Dec 2006, 10:39:00

    legal pig said "how are you supposed to run a country with constant threat of being sued ?"

    Isn't the answer to that "honestly and transparently".

  12. Great article on the moke and mirrors here ;

    Basically, All roads lead to the House of Commons or TB. No matter how mauch the Parliamentary Commissioner or Sir Alistair Graham moan if the gov't doesn't play ball you've got no chance.

    Likewise, if you want to get a law passed, the gov't got to push it through. Bob Hope and no hope are your chances

  13. bleeding obvious said...

    "legal pig said "how are you supposed to run a country with constant threat of being sued ?"

    Isn't the answer to that "honestly and transparently".

    Haven't the last 10 years answered that ? I think there should be a max of 2 terms a PM can serve. The basic problem is they start to lose track of right or wrong once they've been in power too long.

  14. Even if there's a contract between an MP and the voters - you can't prove a loss (or quantify one) if they've lied - so what are you going to sue for ? And even if you could quantify a loss, and won in court - an MP or Minister would probably be bankrupted if they had to pay personally. It'd end up being the taxpayer. Great - we get compensation from ourselves when our elected representatives fuck up/lie !!!

  15. Thanks anonymous, maybe I'll run!

    Law student - are we to think that people should be able to get away with evading prosecution because they can't afford it or it will cost the taxpayer? With that line of thinking we wouldn't prosecute anyone who was on legal aid. Let criminals roam free?

    Call me naive - like the idea of 2 term limit - it would limit the need for politicians to say things just to get re-elected and allow them to focus on the job in hand.

  16. You could do the recall thing as in California and some other states - the voters have the right to recall a politician they've lost confidence in and force another election. 'Course, you might end up with Schwarzenegger running the show...

  17. Blair's scarier than Schwarzenegger

  18. definition of truth/ lies/ become opinion/unless the legislation is legislated by something impartial// of course when dealing with the rights of an entire nation/ brings about obvious and hidden dangers/

    down with the grapevine//

  19. dont trust them cricketing convicts. they think they won the ashes. lying bxxtards...

    surely they are british anyway.

    what politics