Leading article: Hoist by her own petard

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No one has suggested that Baroness Scotland knew she had taken on an illegal immigrant as her housekeeper. All the available evidence is that she acted in good faith. The fine of £5,000 – half the maximum for the offence – looks quite steep for, as Lady Scotland insisted yesterday, failing to photocopy a document. It is an expensive lesson; something she is unlikely to repeat.

So why should the case not be allowed to rest there? Lady Scotland has dismissed her housekeeper. And a smiling Attorney General returned to her office, describing her offence, with outrageous glibness, as a "technical error" akin to not paying a parking fine or the congestion charge for driving in central London.

Except that it isn't, is it? It might have been, had the Baroness been just another member of the House of Lords, rather than the Government's chief law officer. Even then, we might have been inclined to cut her a little slack for what appears to have been a single instance of sloppiness.

The biggest problem with what Lady Scotland did, or rather did not do, is that she is not just another peer of the realm, nor yet just another member of government. Nor is her involvement only as the Government's chief law officer. She is actually the person who originated and saw through the very legislation she has been breached. That changes the perspective.

The employment law she broke was mean-spirited in the extreme and poorly drafted, as was widely noted at the time. Here we had yet another measure delegating responsibility to individuals that might reasonably be expected to reside with government. In effect, it opened a second layer of border-policing, in which employers were held legally responsible for the visa status of their employees.

In a gratifying example of poetic justice, Lady Scotland has been caught by the small print of provisions she herself framed. What she should do next is not dictated by the law, either its letter or its spirit. It is a matter of personal integrity and honour. Having steered through Parliament a law she herself could not observe, she should have the grace to tender her resignation, admitting the failings of the law and her own.

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