The news media are there to report events. However, they can exercise considerable influence on legislation too. TV and radio stations are required by law to maintain a political balance in their broadcasting but there is no such restriction on newspapers. The print media can take strong positions on particular legislative proposals. Politicians depend on the media for their public image, and do not want to act in a way that may set the media against them. Can you think of any politicians who have tarnished their public image?
Example: It was a series of news reports and articles calling for action that led to the passing of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and more recently the Sex Offenders Act 1997. In neither case was the risk to members of the public any greater than it had been for many years previously but the government in each case could not afford to ignore an expression of public concern whipped up by the media and felt compelled to take action.
The Law Commission was set up in 1965. It is an independent body made up of five experienced and qualified lawyers. The independent body was set up to consider areas of law which need reform. The Government may specifically ask the Law Commission to look at certain areas of law, or they may select areas to research themselves. The Law Commission will look at the law and produce a report for the Government. They research the area of law that has been identified and then produce a consultation paper to give to the government. This will outline the possible reforms and improvements. Following on from this consultation period the Law Commission will then draw up actual proposals for reform and present them in a report. The Law Commission may attach a Bill with the report. This sets out exactly how the new law should be. The bill will then be presented to parliament and may become law (providing it passes the necessary stages in Parliament). The Law Commission can also change whole areas of law and identify old laws which are no longer used.
It is clear that they Law Commission has a direct influence on parliament as a law maker. They identify areas of law which need to be improved, modernised, repealed and changed, and then they will tell the Government.
An example of how the Law Commission influences laws passed in this country is the Fraud Act 2006. This piece of legislation simplified the law on deception. The Law Commission researched the area of law and found it to be difficult and complicated. They therefore produced a draft bill for the Government to present to parliament. This draft bill passed through Parliament and eventually became the Fraud Act 2006. This act of Parliament is now much more straight forward and more complicated.
Some legislation is passed as a response to pressure from the European Union or the European Court of Human Rights. The UK signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950 and the Treaty Establishing the European Community (the Treaty of Rome) in 1972. This meant that we would have to accept pressures from Europe to pass certain laws when they arose.
When an EU Directive is issued the government must ensure that it is implemented in English law. Sometimes our law is sufficient and no change is needed. Sometimes it is best to make the necessary changes through primary legislation. In this case a bill must be introduced to give effect to the EU Directive.
Example: The Data Protection Act 1998 was enacted as a response to Council Directive 95/46, which required greater controls over the storage and processing of personal data than were contained in the Data Protection Act 1984.
Pressure Groups & Lobbyists
There are hundreds of groups seeking to influence the legislative process. These are not political parties and have no desire to govern the country as a whole. They limit their pressure to particular aspects of policy (that they are interested in). Some are "interest groups" representing the interests of their members. Example: The National Union of Teachers exists permanently and has other functions besides trying to influence legislation.
Other groups are "cause groups" who campaign for particular changes in society.
Example: the Anti-Poll Tax Federation existed for only a few years. These types of groups tend to campaign until they achieve ultimate success or obvious failure.
Some pressure groups are small, but some are actually larger than most political parties. Example: In 2001-2002 the Conservative Party had about 320,000 members, the Labour Party about 300,000, and the Liberal Democrats about 75,000. In comparison, Amnesty International had some 150,000 members in the UK. Example: The Green Party had about 5,000 members, but the pressure group Greenpeace had nearly 200,000 and Friends of the Earth had more than 100,000.
Parliamentary Supremacy or Parliamentary Sovereignty is the idea that Parliament is the highest legislative power in the land. There are two main views on this; these are the Modern view and the Historic view.
The historic view was championed by AV Dicey, a 19th century theorist. This view states that there are three key points which make Parliament supreme. One point is that Parliament can legislate on any subject matter. This means that Parliament can make laws on anything they like. An example of this would be the Calendar Act 1750, where parliament took twelve days out of September. Another point is that no Parliament can be bound by any previous Parliament and is free to make any laws and changes any existing laws at will. Parliament can also change its own powers due to the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949; these acts reduced the power of the House Of Commons. An example of this would be the Hunting Act 2004 where the House Of Lords tried to reject a bill but could only hold it up for 12 months and the bill eventually became law. The final point is that no other body has the right to override parliament or set aside an Act of Parliament. An example of this would be the case of British Railways Board v Pickin (1974).
Then there is the modern view which states that Parliament is still the highest legislative authority in the land, but there are limitations/restrictions on Parliament. These limitations were self-imposed so Parliament is still classed as supreme. The first restriction on Parliament is membership to the European Union. Parliament passed the European Communities Act 1972 in order to become a member. Even though Britain could technically withdraw from the E.U at any time it wouldn’t be in the best interests of Britain to do so. E.U laws take priority over British laws even if the British law was passed first.
The second limitation on Parliament is the Human Rights Act 1998. It says that all Acts of Parliament have to be compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights. Any law that is not compatible is known as a Declaration of Incompatibility. An example of this would be the case of H v Mental Health Review Tribunal (2001). In this case a patient had made an application to be released from a mental hospital- the Mental Health Act 1983 said that the burden of proof fell to the patient and they should prove that they are fit for release, whereas the Human Rights Act 1998 said that it should be up to the state to justify the continuing detention of a patient. The courts made a declaration that the law was not compatible with the human rights act and the law was changed so the law was compatible.