It is sometimes said that in order to learn it is necessary to be able to forget and that if we couldn’t unlearn things by forgetting we would become rigid in our thinking and unable to adapt to new information and knowledge. One of the problems with parliament made laws is that there are such a lot of them. And as the quantity of laws grows, societies body of law becomes less transparent and accessible to the average person and even to the legal professional. In the process a lot of obscure laws that will never generate much public discussion or interest in terms of reform will still continue to restrict behaviour and stifle creativity. As such society can become rigid and lose the knack of easily learning new tricks because it can’t easily forget old rules.
The constitution of a nation might be thought of as a set of rules carved in stone. They are not easily changed and to overturn the constitution usually requires a minor war. The laws made by parliament might be though of as like laws inscribed on parchment. They can be changed more easily but only if there exists a body of interest that will advocate for reform and if parliament makes the time to undertake such reform. What I propose is a set of laws that are like paint on a public wall. These laws would be there for a long time but eventually they will weather away and cease to exist unless the necessary paint is reapplied. The effort then is in retaining them and such effort will get applied only to rules that are perceived to have real value.
An act created by parliament currently requires a simple 51% majority in order to become permanent law. I envisage a constitutional reform such that parliamentary acts that are intended to be permanent should require support from a super-majority of 75% of the parliament (house of reps). Laws that have a sunset clause of 30 years or less would require support from only a simple majority of 51% of parliament, as is currently the case. Of course a simple majority could repeal any law, and a simple majority could extend the expiry date on any law so long as they did not renew its life beyond a 30-year horizon.
Under such a scheme laws would only take on a timeless quality if a broad body of consensus within parliament supported them. No doubt laws such as those that prohibit murder or rape would have little difficulty in meeting this test. However a parliamentary majority would still be empowered to make laws to govern society for today, albeit with a sunset clause built in. Such laws can in effect be experimentally tested for a generation and if they work then one day a super-majority may even vote to make them permanent. However they may continue to divide opinion in which case in years hence a new majority will need to be assembled to extend their reign.
I would expect that for topically laws the net effect would be minimal. Many laws would get a rolling renewal every 30 years but would never meet the necessary consensus test to become permanent.
One objection to this reform might be that parliaments would become preoccupied with defending the worth of previously enacted laws rather than in creating new laws. However this may not be such a negative thing. And maybe in the process somebody will forget to renew a rule that then clears the way for some creative citizen to pursue new ways of organising things.