When police forces announce their “policing priorities” for the coming year, they always preface them by saying that these are the crimes about which the public is most concerned – and it’s overwhelmingly car crime (in the UK at least). So relying on the public to tell you which crimes are most serious is something of a gamble – but a gamble that political parties are constantly taking. If you don’t say that your party is going to criminalise (or more harshly criminalise) the crimes that the voters are worried about, you won’t get the chance to criminalise anything. And so we often end up with strange crimes left on the statute books, and – perhaps more worryingly – important ones left off it.
Thankfully we are in the throes of righting one terrible wrong by working on a Modern Slavery Bill. According to the UK government website: “This Bill has now been committed to a Public Bill Committee. The Public Bill Committee is expected to meet on Tuesday 14 October 2014 [and] will scrutinise the Bill line by line.” This should address the crazy situation in which we find ourselves at the moment, whereby slavery is happening, people are acting as slave-masters and slave-traders, and yet we cannot penalise them for these offences because slavery has been abolished. All we abolished, it turns out, was the offence of slavery – not the fact of it.
It’s actually not dissimilar to money laundering. Money laundering – i.e. disguising the criminal origins of your assets – has been going on since time began. I bet there was a caveman who pinched a leg from someone else’s woolly mammoth, swapped it for a new spear, and when questioned about the spear, said, “This old thing? I inherited it from my dad.” But we didn’t get around to criminalising it until the end of the last century – hence Al Capone’s incarceration for tax evasion rather than his much more extensive laundering activities. So the law is a sluggish old beast, not quick on the uptake when it comes to what criminals are really doing. And that’s without mentioning Bitcoin, or aggressive tax avoidance.