Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Permanent disaster law better than legislation on the hoof?

Over at her blog Homepaddock writes,
Radio NZ reports the government is considering permanent legislation to deal with natural disasters.
While the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act has been criticised for overriding existing laws, Civil Defence Minister John Carter says it’s already proving its worth.

And Mr Carter says the Government is considering whether new legislation is needed to deal with disasters, rather than having to rush through emergency laws, as has happened after the earthquake.
She then adds,
Legislation made with public input and careful consideration will almost always be better than that made on the hoof.
But is this so? It depends on how completely any law we write today can cover what will happen in an unknowable future. If, as seems reasonable to at least consider, each disaster is largely unique then it is not obvious that we can write a law today that can deal with all possible disasters in the future. The best we could do is write in a mechanism to decide what should be done in any situation, but such a mechanism itself must be incomplete, if only for reasons of bounded rationality. We cannot ever hope to cover all possible eventualities even with a general mechanism. Thus we will still need, in the future, some way of "completing" the incomplete mechanism.Thus would it not be better to write a totally incomplete law, i.e. no law at all, and then react at the time of a disaster, given that we will have much better information as to the particular problems people face and can therefore tailor the legislation to the needs of the people at the time.

Here we have a trade-off between certainty and flexibility. A law written today will give people certainty as to what actions would be carried out and by whom but making legislation "on the hoof" gives flexibility so that an legislation can to tailored to the particular circumstances.

Add to this leaning by doing, so that any future legislation can incorporate what we have learnt up until that time as to what works and what doesn't.

1 comment:

homepaddock said...

Having a permanent law doesn't mean a new law couldn't be introduced for a specific disaster.

But a permanent law may be able to avoid some of the clauses which concern people in the CERRA.