We all know that the government is short of money, that lawyers have since the time of Dickens had few friends, and that the law is therefore an easy target for cuts and/or fee hikes. And yes, of course, we all have a vested interest.
Nevertheless, the government should think about the direction in which both criminal and civil law is heading, with minimal, expensive provision for the average person.
Aside from the fact that the provision of effective and accessible facilities for enforcing the criminal law and settling civil disputes is part of the constitutional bargain that subjects have with the Crown, an effective, fair and accessible legal system is the glue which holds civilised society together. It is like chipboard. Take the glue away and it will crumble. Ministers should take notice of protesting judges, resigning magistrates and police forces abandoning (aka ‘prioritising’) some areas before it is too late.
In case it may be thought that ‘it wouldn’t happen here, we’ve been too civilised for too long’, think back a few years to the epidemic of city centre riots. Or the allegations of thuggery rumoured to surround some parts of the Scottish devolution campaign. Society may appear calm on the surface but it does not take much to tip the balance. And if people feel they cannot get or afford justice through the courts, why wouldn’t they take the law into their own hands?
The government must also stop trying to manipulate the law to get the result it wants. The latest fracking exercise to call in applications and the call from certain parliamentarians who should know better for lawyers to stop doing tax-avoidance work are prime examples. There is also the ill-thought out suggestion that transplant donors should have an opt-out system rather than opt-in.
Neither our money nor our bodies are state property. The Crown may take from us only that which the law permits. The Magna Carta anniversary seems to have been very quickly forgotten.
I am now 70 and qualified in 1968. It probably won’t matter too much to me, but if things continue on their present course I predict a future of increasing lawlessness and social unrest, coupled with more heavy-handed and repressive laws and the complete loss of the consensual basis on which matters both criminal and civil largely rest.
Or, of course, it may all just be part of a cunning plan to deter would-be immigrants by making the place utterly repellent to foreigners.
John Gudgeon, King’s Lynn