‘Chutzpah’ barely covers it.
As the government blithely drapes itself in the union flag to celebrate Magna Carta, court fees are sent rocketing once again through the craven expedient of an announcement snuck out the day after the Commons adjourns.
Just as – you will recall – Chris Grayling (equally blithely) pushed through profoundly regressive criminal court charges by the back door without notice or consultation.
‘To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.’ Really?
Amid the outrage there is need for cool reflection. As soon as a public service can be successfully commoditised (a process now fully under way in the courts system), it becomes ripe for privatisation.
Two years ago, following a leak, the Ministry of Justice dismissed claims it was actively considering ‘the wholesale’ privatisation of the courts service as part of a radical review to save funds. Tellingly, it did not define what it meant by ‘wholesale’.
Yet another increase in court fees could be interpreted as ‘fattening up’ the courts for privatisation in the same way that Royal Mail was rendered irresistibly attractive to private investors by a 30% hike in the price of a first-class stamp.
We know how deeply privatisation has already seeped into the justice system – from probation to court enforcement. There is no reason to suppose anything is off limits. Private sector good, public sector bad.