Why can’t the minister just admit what we all know? This was a policy pushed through at reckless speed.
It wasn’t easy to spot on the television coverage, but several members of the justice committee spent much of yesterday’s evidence session engrossed in their phones.
It wasn’t difficult to see why: justice minister Shailesh Vara was repeating the same old platitudes about economic necessity and difficult decisions.
Today’s session happened to be on court and tribunal fees, but really it sounded much the same as any defence on a cost-cutting/fundraising policy of the past six years.
Vara is such a polished individual that his appearances at things like this committee border on tedious. Unflappable and barely breaking sweat, he is a consummate politician – not the man to send into a burning building, necessarily, but certainly the one to tell others it’s just a little on the warm side.
What’s so frustrating about his defences of court fee increases is that it wouldn’t do him any harm to move off-message occasionally.
You may not like the idea of paying fees up-front to lodge cases - and there is no question it has prevented claims that would have happened without them - but there simply is not the cash in MoJ reserves to cover the costs of our court service.
Once ministers agree to the principal of ‘user pays’ - and Vara was quick to point out the electorate had backed it last May - the rest is just detail.
So why keep up this pretence that court fees have not prevented meritorious cases? Or that serious and detailed research was behind the policy?
As one MP pointed out, Vara and the government have a ‘get-out’ by saying this was an emergency and they had to act quickly.
The research basis for fees is patently inadequate - even senior judges think so - but all Vara needs to say is ‘yes, I know, what else could we do?’.
Instead, he seeks to persuade people that this was a thought-through, fact-based policy which in any case has not had any adverse effect.
The rushed nature of fees introduction is reflected in the fact that a review of them will, according to Vara, be ‘comprehensive’ and take some time. It seems to be OK to legislate in haste, but repealing takes considerably longer. I just wish Vara would admit so.
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor