2 Where do ideas for change come from?
Society is constantly changing. The law and legal system need to reflect society’s views and keep pace with these changes and so, in turn, are constantly undergoing change. Inevitably, the more complex the society, the more complicated the legal issues and cases which arise. In the nineteenth century, the majority of cases coming before the courts concerned the sale of horses. Today’s courts often have to deal with large commercial transactions involving electronic communications.
The list of sources for ideas for change that follows is not exhaustive, but is intended to provide an illustration of the range of bodies interested in law and changes in the law.
- Political party manifestos
Party manifestos and pre-election promises are influenced by what politicians believe the public will vote for. A government is not, however, legally bound to introduce any pre-election promises.
- Public opinion
Members of the general public can influence members of parliament to introduce Bills.
- The media can harness public opinion in order to pressure Parliament to make new laws.
- An emergency or crisis
Legislation may be passed because of some national emergency or crisis which emerged during the government’s period in office.
- Royal Commissions
Royal Commissions occasionally report to Parliament with recommendations for legislation which may be taken up as part of the government’s legislative programme. Royal Commissions are advisory committees established by the government, though formally appointed by the Crown – hence ‘royal’ – to investigate any subject the government of the day sees fit to refer to such a Commission. They are often used for non-party political issues, or for issues that a government wishes to be seen to be addressing in a non-party political way.
- The Scottish Law Commission
Another source of legislation is the recommendations of the Scottish Law Commission. The Commission was created in order to review and make recommendations about any areas of the law which it felt were in need of reform.
- Private Members’ Bills
Individual Members of Parliament have the power to introduce their own legislation known as a ‘Private Members’ Bill’. Private Members’ Bills may be the result of an MSP being approached for support for a proposal put forward by particular interest groups operating outside Parliament. Alternatively, Private Members’ Bills may originate from a government suggestion to an MSP that he or she propose a particular measure.
- Pressure groups
A pressure group can be described as an organised group that exists for the purpose of permanently representing particular interests. Pressure groups do not generally put up candidates for election but seek to influence government policy or legislation. They can also be described as ‘interest groups’, ‘lobby groups’ or ‘protest groups’. In the UK, the number of political parties is very small, whereas the number of pressure groups runs into thousands. A pressure group can be a huge organisation like the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), which represents approximately 150,000 businesses, but it can also be a single-issue, locally-based organisation.
The aim of all pressure groups is to influence the people who actually have the power to make decisions. Pressure groups provide a means of popular participation in national politics between elections. They are sometimes able to gather sufficient support to force government to amend or even repeal legislation. There is considerable evidence of successful pressure group campaigns that have changed government policies.