Since retiring as a litigator I have spent years railing against change, imploring the sea not to wet my feet. I have learned some harsh lessons along the way:
- It is best not to retire when all the systems one knows and respects are going to pot. It will depress you and, the more you go on about it, will depress others still more. Unfortunately they are still working.
- Once the mandarins decide, it is pointless to object. ‘Consultation’ is just a euphemism for ‘intending totally to ignore your protest’.
- Concepts of justice, fairness and simple common sense will always take second place to monetary considerations. Thus the impending closure of so many courts, including Chippenham and Bath, will inevitably be justified (often spuriously) by underuse or unaffordability.
- Litigation across the board has become ridiculously expensive – far out of reach of the public it is intended to serve. That of course is the intention: less litigation, fewer courts, less human contact in court, more computerised justice, less need for judges. Less cost.
- Anyone who imagines that adding a swingeing cost penalty to fines and costs in the criminal courts is a good idea, when the vast majority of miscreants are on benefits and cannot pay minimal fines anyway, does not live in the real world. Many magistrates who apply common sense have seen the light and resigned. All it achieves is to frighten the innocent accused into pleading guilty. Is this what we want?
In quieter moments I content myself with the knowledge that things were better run and happier for the litigator between about 1960 and 2000. I am not imagining it; they really were.
Morale has plummeted severely over the last 15 years. Is anyone happier or more content with the way things are now?
At this rate, our much-vaunted legal system – once the envy of the world – will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history.
John Greenwood, retired family lawyer and recorder, Chippenham, Wilts