Friday, August 17, 2007

No bail for bigamy?

The Herald today has a piece on a man being acquitted of the unusual charge of bigamy. But what's even more unusual is that he spent five months in jail awaiting trial. Bigamy is not a violent crime, and while the defendant had previously failed to appear, five months pre-trial detention seems to be wildly out of proportion to the seriousness of the alleged offence.

While we're on the subject, I'm also shocked to see that bigamy still carries a penalty of up to seven years imprisonment. This seems to be a relic of the past when the government tried to legislate social arrangements and a religious conception of marriage predominated (even if it wasn't the original reason for our marriage laws). But in a liberal and secular society, the government's sole interest in marriage is in keeping a register and enforcing joint rights for those who choose to share them. And under that conception, it's hard to see bigamy as justifying such severe punishment. The core of the crime lies in making a false declaration, and it should carry the same penalty, or that provided in the Marriage or Civil Union Acts for making a false statement.

(Oh, and while I'm talking about marriage, this should probably go as well. It's a clear content-based limit on freedom of expression, and I can't imagine any way in which it could be "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society"...)