When the government is defendant in medical or military claims, it shouldn’t be involved in reducing them.
We cannot, as Danny put it in the film Hot Fuzz, act as judge, Judy and executioner.
Except if you happen to be running the government, it would seem. In Whitehall, the rule appears to be that if something isn’t to your liking, simply change the rules so it is.
In areas such as personal injury and employment, there is always the lingering suspicion that moves to reform the claims process have certain advantages for insurers and big businesses.
These are claims which are eating into the health and defence budgets, and so they’re fair game for shutting down.
This is not to say that costs for clinical negligence claims are always proportionate. Neither is it to say there are no spurious claims made against the military – although the millions paid out by the Ministry of Defence settling post-Iraq claims suggest some at least are legitimate. There is a debate to be had about bringing costs of both types of claim down.
But why are the departments directly affected by these claims - in effect the defendants - allowed to change the rules? And why can no one seem to spot the obvious conflict involved with their meddling?
It’s bemusing to me why the Department of Health is even involved in the process to fix fees for clinical negligence claims. Since when has the cost of legal proceedings been an issue for health ministers? They can concentrate on making us better, and leave the justice issues to judges and Michael Gove.
Ditto for the military claims. Does it really need explaining that a government acting as defendant is not the ideal candidate for deciding how claims should be run? David Cameron was hardly going to be questioned by the general public for seeming to protect the rights of soldiers, but popular policy is not always correct policy.
If so-called dodgy claims are clogging up the system and putting our forces under undue pressure, it’s for the courts and judiciary to call it.
The government, as the High Court acknowledged during the battle over personal injury fixed fees, has a mandate to do as it wishes, within the law. If you don’t like it, then say so at the next election.
But when the government itself is named on the court papers, it’s self-evidently not its business to dictate the rules and unconstitutional to make claims harder to bring. At the moment, the government is not just moving the goalposts, but puncturing the ball, churning up the pitch and kicking the keeper in the shins.
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor