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Best interests of the blah

A review for the UN by children’s commissioners for the UK says that British society is demonising children. My favourite part is this:
Public bodies are legally bound to put the best interests of a child first in decision-making. But the commissioners said this key legal safeguard had failed in some parts of the youth justice system for England and Wales.
This may well be because the key legal safeguard does not exist, since the phrase “the best interests of the child” DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING. It has no legal meaning. There is no way of measuring or enforcing it. The “best interests of the child” are whatever pops into the head of the person dealing with the kid at the time—which, catastrophically, usually means a social worker.

MPs and peers bat the phrase around the building all the damn time. If debates about children are a full English breakfast, “best interests of the child” is the ketchup; people inevitably reach for it, and usually end up pouring on far too much. There are other irritating verbal tics that infest people’s speeches, such as “on the face of the Bill” (you’ll find that’s been changed to “in the Bill”, my Lord; trees don’t save themselves), but none of those phrases can boast of having wormed their way into legislation without anyone noticing that they DON’T MEAN ANYTHING. You might as well bring in a Loveliness Act with strict penalties for anyone who “does not behave in a manner that is deemed to be, in whole or in part, lovely”. Yes, you’ll have proved to everyone that you would like everything to be lovely, but the resulting confusion will make everyone just that little bit worse off than they were before.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 9th, 2008 12:42 pm (UTC)
Sorry, when is this Loveliness Bill being read? I hope it gets through.
Jun. 9th, 2008 01:10 pm (UTC)
But how would it be enforced? Specifically, would the enforcing officers themselves be bound by the act? If so, they might find themselves severely constrained when dealing with offenders, but if they weren’t subject to the act there’d be uproar. Plus, people determined not to be lovely might then join the loveliness police solely in order to be exempt, leading to a measurably less lovely experience for everyone else.

Also, who would define “lovely”? Your first instinct might very well be to say “Me!”, but unfortunately that’s also the instinctive response of at least 80 per cent of the rest of the population (kind of like how every motorist you ask is a terrifically responsible driver yet, statistically, someone out there’s driving like a tosser). If there were no specific legal gauge of how lovely one’s behaviour was, the law would be wide open to abuse at all levels.

In short: I am unconvinced of the efficacy of any proposed Loveliness Bill.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 9th, 2008 01:45 pm (UTC)
Fair enough, but who does the suing?
Jun. 9th, 2008 01:53 pm (UTC)
Statutory interpretation could not fathom "Best interests of the child".

Its not the terminology thats the problem but the concept.
Jun. 10th, 2008 10:15 am (UTC)
I like ketchup.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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