October 23, 2005

Laws should expire

Posted in Ideas at 14:24 by graham

In England in 1388 Richard III made a law stating that all men (or only ages 10-18, versions differ) must own bows and practice archery on Sunday’s and holidays. This law was finally repealed in 1960.

An 1888 law encouraging emigration to the colonies of unemployed adults and pauper children from the overcrowded cities of England and Wales was repealed in 2004.

The Internet abounds with weird outdated laws like these. A law is valid until it is repealed. As law makers (an elected assembly) make more laws than they repeal, we get more and more laws. Only a small section of them end up being relevant to the world we live in. There is a simple solution: Laws should expire.

I propose that every law passed should include its expiry date. 1 year for emergency legislation, 5 – 10 years for most laws, with probably a cap of 20 years. Laws forming part of a country’s constitution – i.e. the major ‘basis of society’ laws such as not permitting murder – could have 50 – 100 year renewable periods.

As the laws come up for review they can be modified and updated, for example to take into account new technology and new social patterns. In the case of emergency legislation the country will of had more time to consider the issue.

Regularly updating and revising laws would make them more directly relevant to our daily lives, easier to understand by non-legal professionals, and easier to apply and enforce. There would be less need for interpretation by a judge or jury, which would mean much smaller differences in how different people are treated for the same offense.

The maximum life-span of a law could be tied to how long it has already been in force, how long it was debated for, and how many members of the assembly participated in making it. This would prevent governments rushing laws through ‘in the middle of the night’ (The U.S.A. Patriot Act being a very good example of this). If the law was only presented (or amended) a few hours before the vote, and only a few people voted, then you are not representing the people. You should not be able to make a long-term law. If the law has already been in force for some years, or most of the assembly voted on it, then that is a more representative law and should live longer.


  1. litturopes said,

    September 14, 2006 at 16:38

    written into them. Some sections are not valid after a certain date. Unfortunately, a lot of alterations to the Migration Act are retrospective- applying before they were passed!

  2. OC said,

    March 8, 2006 at 14:48

    Some laws, including the anti-terrorism legislation in Australia, DO have expiry clauses written into them. Some sections are not valid after a certain date. Unfortunately, a lot of alterations to the Migration Act are retrospective- applying before they were passed!

  3. graham said,

    October 31, 2005 at 19:54

    Alain Way , Mon Jul 18 07:25:49 2005 :

    This law has already been passed in Queensland Australia.

    Unfortunately it was passed in 1892, so it has now expired.

    Marklar , Wed Jul 6 14:48:34 2005 :

    I recently thought of something similar, err, but completely different.

    The ‘law’ should be changed so that some policy is long term and can only be changed in small portions. In addition, the party has to declare their intention to change it and by how much, before the election.

    For example, “If we are elected we will raise taxes for rich folk by the maximum allowed under the law” (let’s say 2% for example). On the day they are elected, the tax rate changes and they have no choice in the matter and they can’t mess about with it for another 4 years.

    Parties could also declare new long term policies that they will implement if elected like “We will lower CO2 polution by 10% each year, for ever and no future government may adjust this figure by more than 1%”. So the next government can say “we like the polution reduction rate let’s leave it alone” or “Too much polution, let’s reduce by 11%” or “screw polution lets just drop by 9% from now on”.

    |333173|3|_||3 , Thu Jun 30 04:34:25 2005 :

    Sex with fish… that sounds a bit fishy to me.

    Seriously though, an example of a stupid rule long forgotten was that at Oxford University, in the middle ages a meal of a loaf of bread, a pint of ale, and so on, duing exam time. One candidate, having discovered the rule, demanded his free lunch, which he got. However, it had also been a requiremnet that exam candidates wear a sword. the University authoritise gave him an option then: either he pays for the lunch and beer, or he got his exam ripped up. True story, and it proves the point.

    I agree with Aaron about the law dissapearing if no ation is taken, but fear that with the uselessness of some governments, lethargy would lead to anarchy.

    Twistedbox , Sun May 22 12:19:30 2005 :

    Outdated laws prevent proper inplementation of necessary and useful laws by wasting valuable time and money. For example in AZ old state law required upon release from prison one was to be issued a horse, six shooter, and so much in gold. One prisoner actually researched to find the law was still in effect and requested this upon his release. The state of Arizona wasted time trying to figure out how to override his request, time over debating, time and fufilling his request, time and money getting this law revoked while yet some child molester getting rushed though the justice system will probably walk away unconvicted due to lack of funds and time to properly provide enough evidence to convict.

    IN OTHER WORDS YOU ARE RIGHT in that laws should expire! and might i add they need to stop making ridiculous laws like its illegal to have sex with a fish in one state and in another its illegal to have sex with a dead fish! Now I wonder how long it took that law to get passed

    Aaron , Tue May 10 00:51:02 2005 :

    I disagree with CodeNinja to a point. It should be:

    A majority to revisit (B) A majority to keep (A) Otherwise (C) ditch it.

    This will force the represenatives to make a positive vote to keep it, rather than doing nothing.

    CodeNinja , Fri Apr 29 05:55:03 2005 :

    Do you know what it actualy takes for a law to get passed in the first place?!? With all the shit it has to go through its amazing that they actualy get passed at all… to have the lawmakers go through the entire process again for ALL laws would take up WAY too much legeslative time… and we would eventualy end up deadlocked.

    Instead It Would Be Logical ™ to have the law come up for review. Have it come up for a quick vote on the action to take… A) Keep as Is, B) Revisit, C) Repeal.

    a majority vote would be needed to repeal, a majority vote would be needed to revisit, in which case the whole of congress can get back into the shit of it… and by default, if a majority of B or C was not reached, the law would be kept for another round. Possiably extending the law for it’s half-life to keep stupid shit from staying on the books for another 10 years just because the quarum was sleeping through the vote.

    This process shouldnt be used for the major ‘basis of society’ laws B) should be the only option for those.


    jah , Fri Apr 8 20:40:23 2005 :

    let’s repeal certain sections of the Misuse of Drugs Act and all go down to the pub for a beer and a phat one!!

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