Law, vagueness and the power of Parliament

Presenter: Owain Johnstone

How much power does the British Parliament have? Recent scholarship suggests it is more influential than once thought, including within the legislative process. One under-explored influencing technique used by MPs is to try to force the Government to specify how it will interpret particular legislative provisions after a given bill is passed into law. The Government resists this by attempting to retain a measure of vagueness in the law, thereby allowing itself greater discretion when subsequently implementing it. Legislative debates preceding the passage of the Modern Slavery Act exemplify this dynamic, illustrating the power struggles that lie behind the production of legal vagueness.

Owain Johnstone is a final year DPhil candidate at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford. His research focuses on the contribution of the policy process to the construction of human trafficking as a social problem in the UK.