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Symbolic laws

More and more legislation is about sending signals. What's wrong with that?

By Catherine Fieschi   February 2006

The statute book is filling up with legislation that is increasingly symbolic in nature. The primary aim of such legislation appears to be reassurance rather than redress, prevention or punishment. Recent examples include the racial and religious hatred bill, soon to return to the Commons after revision in the Lords, and even some of the public service reform legislation, such as that introducing foundation hospitals or the current education bill reforming secondary schools.

In the case of the religious hatred bill, it seems to work like this: a signal is sent by the government to the Muslim minority—whose representatives have…

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