Yesterday I was fortunate enough to breakfast with a couple of professional friends who, between them, must know just about as much as anybody could or hope to know about personal injury litigation in this country (and as far as Rome too!)
Inevitably, the main subject of conversation was the news from the Ministry of Injustice last week and the grotesque court fee hikes quickly implemented two days ago. We took the opportunity to develop a (darkly) humorous idea that had been floated briefly in the ether last week on the back of Lord Faulks’ noble proclamation that “litigation is very much an optional activity”.
We thought we might set up our own privately owned civil court. Naturally, we would try to replicate all the good things about our court service - there are many - but do everything else (far) better.
We would still charge fees to court users but they would not be anything like those so very recently imposed by our esteemed Lord Chancellor. We think that at many levels they would probably be more in line with the radically different fee structure that we used to have…last week.
This funding scheme could not be relied upon to maintain the service partly because existing volumes probably would not generate sufficient value at that level and also because usage is always unpredictable. On the other hand, the service needs to be maintained so that it’s there when required, rather than turning into that rusty old machine in the derelict shed (see Road to ruin).
So the simple answer is that we would have a regular subscription paid by all potential users of the system. We would make sure that everyone who might need to have recourse to our justice facility made a contribution proportionate to their income.
To reflect all these attributes we were trying to think of an appropriate name for it - maybe......er, a “tax”.
Come to think of it, we could use the same model for one or two other things that one might class as “optional activities”.
How about using that fund to support and maintain a bunch of security people that you could call upon when you need them to protect you, your loved ones and your property.
That way, you would not need to worry about whether you could find or afford the money to avoid, perhaps, being invaded by a foreign nation or getting beaten up in the street. It would be these guys who turn up and defend you, or by their very existence discourage such events to a large degree. We could call them....”the defence services” and “the police”.
Now, what about some medical facilities. If we could use this fund to provide hospitals and ambulance services that would be quite useful. Then, after you had had your head kicked in or been run over by a car you would not need to bleed to death whilst rummaging through your pockets or bag for cash or a credit card and trying to work out if you can afford to have your life saved.
We could call this – oh, I don’t know – a “health service”.
You get the idea.
If you’re going to have any sort of facility providing benefits to all its members or potential members, then you need to commit to an investment and maintain it, irrespective of whether, in the short to medium term at least, you’re convinced of the need for it.
Whether it’s a friendship or a municipal building, you cannot expect it to be there just when you want it. You have to accept that you will need to make an investment of time, money or whatever – often when it does not suit you – if you want it to be there when it does suit.
Some things are so important that they must not be left to chance, susceptible to the irresponsible or selfish view that “we’ll worry about that when it happens”.
When it comes to vitally important, and by no coincidence significantly expensive, facilities it is the undeniable duty of the state to take responsibility for the well-being of its citizens.
Defence, policing, healthcare. None of these should be expected to be self-funding.
So what about justice? Justice is a cornerstone of the democratic state.
It’s no more an optional activity than being invaded, murdered, raped or bleeding to death. For many people, legal services are a distress purchase and they need to be affordable one way or another.
Our democratically elected government has a duty to ensure this. Aristotle, Dostoevsky and Ghandi are all credited with similar observations the essence of which is that as a society we are judged by the manner in which we treat our weakest members.