The one issue which has dominated the legal press in the last week, has been the shocking increase in court fees from Monday 9th March. I don’t propose to discuss that particular issue again today. But the debate which took place in the House of Lords last week showed very starkly, the attitude of our Ministry of Justice to the rights of ordinary people and small businesses.
In his speech to the House, Lord Faulks QC for the government, dismissed litigation as ‘very much an optional activity’. So there we have it in five brief words. Defending the rights of ordinary people is seen as something alongside bird watching or stamp collecting. You can take it or leave it. And if you take it you can pay through the nose for it!
What is frightening is that I suspect Grayling, Faulks and Co know just how insulting that statement is. I once instructed Lord Faulks as a QC. It was a Clinical Negligence case on behalf of a child who was profoundly brain damaged at birth. She had Legal Aid. I do not recall him ever suggesting that we were embarking on some optional activity, some sort of hobby on the side. He knew very well that we were fighting for rights of this child to be compensated for negligence and to receive the best possible care for life. That wasn’t an optional activity then and it isn’t now.
I have previously mentioned how proud I was to hear that another young victim of negligence had graduated from University and was looking to work abroad –
This is called the securing of justice for a victim. Not pursuing the case was never an ‘option’.
The same goes for small businesses that might need to pursue debtors. Earlier this year, Tescos hit the news with claims that they were unfairly delaying payments to suppliers. This was undermining the viability of some –
A representative of the Federation of Small Businesses said at the time,
“Late payment can have disastrous effects on a small firms’ cashflow and pushes many businesses to the brink. We’ve raised the issue to the highest levels and have called for a full scale independent inquiry into the payment practices of big business."
So a small business is pushed to the brink because a major PLC fails to pay on time. This business then has to sue for the debt. This is not an ‘optional activity’. Jobs are at stake. They do not have the luxury of choosing whether to sue.
This remarkable statement from an experienced lawyer says a lot. This government is no friend of victims of negligence.
But it also appears that it is no friend of business either – which comes as a bit of a shock.