Harriet Harman's proposal for legislation designed to target a single person - Sir Fred Goodwin - who, whatever his other failings, has not yet been charged wth any crime, seem even more extraordinary today than they did yesterday. Daniel Hannan puts the matter into some historical context:
Quite so, Yet the truly striking thing about Harman's proposal was how little outrage if occasioned. The BBC's Ten O'Clock News led with the story and treated it as a technical matter - would the government be able to "claw back" Sir Fred's pension - and ignored the political, ethical, legal and moral elements of Harman's outrageous proposal. That the BBC should willingly swallow the government's line was hardly a surprise; nor, sadly, was Wee Georgie Osbourne's disinclination to attack Harman's preposterous presumption. Instead he too played up the line that the government had, essentially, "signed-off" on Goodwin's pension. This too was to miss the forest for the trees, even if, politically-speaking, it was the "safe" play.“
Harriet Harman is proposing that a law be introduced aimed at a specific individual, retrospectively to criminalise something that was legal at the time. Such laws were known mediaevally as Acts of Attainder: they declared someone guilty after the event, and with no trial. Attainder Bills were introduced very rarely, usually following a gross abuse of ministerial power or an open insurrection. The last Act of Attainder was passed against Lord Edward Fitzgerald after the failure if the United Irishmen rising of 1798. Since then, Britain has been governed more or less according to constitutional rule.