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ECHR rubberstamps Laws' new Laws

No sooner had the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) blocked Steven Thoburn's appeal against his conviction for using pounds and ounces on February 12th 2004, than trading standards officers renewed their assault on British traders using British weights and measures.

In Lewisham on March 2nd, council officials and police seized weighing machines from two market traders, and returned nine days later to take lb/oz pricing tickets from three more. On April 8th in Berkshire, Martin Fidler of Bladebone Butchers received a 28-day infringement notice warning him of prosecution if he continued to use his imperial scales.

Council officials base their actions on the ruling by Lord Justice Laws in 2002 that Britain has a new system of law. Previously, old Acts of Parliament gave way to more recent Acts.

However, Lord Justice Laws said that the Weights and Measures Act 1985 legalising UK units could not repeal the earlier European Community Act 1972 that compelled metric because the 1972 Act was a "constitutional act", as opposed to an "ordinary act". He said that the 1985 Act could only repeal the 1972 Act if it referred to the 1972 Act in the body of its text.

By creating two types of Act, constitutional and ordinary, Lord Justice Laws has divided existing and future Acts into two categories: for instance, ordinary Acts that might say, "Pounds and ounces are lawful", and constitutional-style Acts that say, "Pounds and ounces are lawful - this repeals all previous Acts".

Such a distinction is bogus. Of course new Acts of Parliament repeal all previous Acts, otherwise what would be the purpose of Parliament passing them? To suggest that Parliament passes Acts in order not to apply them is logically absurd.

At no point during Mr Thoburn's trial did Laws' even mention that he was giving Britain a new system of Acts, meaning that Mr Thoburn had no opportunity to rebut the reasoning on which he was convicted. Denial of representation is a breach of human rights as defined by the European Court, and Mr Thoburn was fully entitled to an appeal. Yet, on February 12th 2004, the ECHR declared Steven Thoburn's appeal inadmissible, with no explanation.

As a result, thousands of traders who act in accordance with Parliament's most recent Act now find themselves at risk of being branded criminals, while officials exercise power that Parliament never gave them.

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