Letters: The cost of English law is terrifying

These letters appear in the December 1 edition of The Independent

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Andrew Mitchell’s defeat in the High Court (report, 29 November) has emphasised the cost of going to law in England. We probably have the most expensive legal system in Europe.

The EU Commission took the UK Government to court about the matter. In the case of EU Commission vs UK (Case c-530/11) the European Court of Justice ruled, in February this year, that English justice was “prohibitively expensive”. That case was about the environment, and the decision was to the effect that the UK was in breach of its environmental obligations by having such an impossibly expensive system of law. The ruling has wider application, however. EU law generally requires an effective civil justice system; ours is so terrifying even to the very rich, let alone the poor or averagely wealthy, that it is no longer effective.

Yet nothing is being done about this. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Government welcomes the extravagant costs of legal proceedings and the consequent decline in the role of the courts as contributors to the nation’s governance.

In a lecture in 2012 Professor Dame Hazel Genn of University College London vividly described the “decline, and now virtual extinction of trials in the civil courts, and with it the public determination of the merits of civil disputes”. Matters have got worse since then.

The odd thing is that this has escaped public notice. Clients come to me with an expectation that justice can be had. It is only when the cost of litigation is explained that it dawns on them just how things have changed in the last 25 years or so.

It’s easy to blame the lawyers, but this state of affairs certainly does not suit me, nor, I am sure, the vast bulk of practising solicitors. It is the system which drives costs up to our own and our clients’ despair. Yet there is no need for our courts to be so expensive.

Reform has been attempted, but these efforts have been judge-driven, and ineffective. It is high time the people themselves started to demand an accessible and therefore effective system of law. For its part, the Government should seek to avoid further collisions with the European Court of Justice. These are inevitable if nothing changes.

Robert Morfee
Langport, Somerset


Your description of Andrew Mitchell as “clever and talented [with] a genuine passion for… helping the world’s poorest people” flies in the face of all the facts. Clever? He has had a very good education and has hence spent hours immersed in the sanest philosophies produced by the best of human culture: Plato, say, or Dickens, or the Bible. It is evidence only of breathtaking stupidity, that after all that education, he can still emerge thinking that he is innately superior to other people. David Mellor’s recent cringe-inducing altercation with a taxi driver is evidence of the same disaster: giant education, tiny mind. The cabbie behaved better, spoke more rationally and was hence clearly the brighter man.

Yet the cabbie is a still a cabbie, the policeman is still a policeman and crassly stupid people just like Mr Mellor and Mr Mitchell are still running the country. No wonder we’re in such an awful mess.

Emma Fox Wilson


All the fuss about the word “pleb” stems from its association with social class; had Mr Mitchell used a different word he would not have attracted the same obloquy. But surely this misses the point; rather he should be condemned for stubbornly and persistently lying about what he did or did not say.

David Gist
Fairlight, East Sussex


While I would agree with much of your editorial concerning Andrew Mitchell (28 November), I would take issue with the idea that what took place at the gates of Downing Street when he abused police officers was “a silly row and should have been settled quietly and privately”. The public has every right to know that Mitchell is a bully and a snob.

Joe Connolly
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire


We need to talk about death

Thank you for a moving and much-needed article on the rarely discussed subject of dying. Catherine McCartney (28 November) describes the “medicalised battle to prolong life” that seems to happen so often, quite simply because doctors believe they should offer treatment and because patients believe they should accept it. It is possible for a patient to be in control of what happens to them, but only if they are of sound mind and/or have made an advance decision.

I have done so, with the help of my GP, who said that very few people came to him with such a request and he wished they would: it would be beneficial to both doctors and patients at a very difficult time.

I made my decision after my mother-in-law’s far from “humane, happy ending”. Ninety-two years old, she had crippling arthritis, and senile dementia. When diagnosed with pneumonia, she was taken to hospital, though she protested. There she languished for 11 weeks, being treated with antibiotics for one infection after another until she died. It was a horrific situation which no one, patient or family, should have to endure.

We don’t like to talk about death, but we should do so before it is too late. I would urge everyone to make an advance decision.

Christina Jones
Retford, Nottinghamshire


Last year my husband, Richard Coward, was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was metastatic. He died exactly eight months later. They were very difficult months for him.

Richard underwent some chemotherapy, at his own request, but it damaged his immune system and his death, when it occurred, was not an easy one. He died in hospital.

Since his death I keep reading about others who have “lost their battle”/ are “bravely fighting” cancer. Cancer is a disease and, as such, should be approached like any other disease. Cancer UK would do well to recognise this. Their current advertising campaign, which includes young children, could lead people to the view that all cancers can be cured. This is simply not the case.

Dr McCartney is absolutely correct in her views. We, all of us, patients, their families, the medical team, need to rethink how we deal with those diagnosed with cancers that are not going to be “cured”.

Siobhán Leslie


Veterans’ plight deserves publicity

Merry Cross raises an excellent point (Letters, 28 November) about this year’s Independent fundraising campaign. War veterans are clearly being let down by the Government they served. However, her opinion actually highlights the need for this appeal.

A high-profile movement to raise money and awareness for those in need can only be a good thing. By making the population more aware of this issue, the Government is more likely to accept its responsibility. We’ve already seen the leaders of Britain’s three main political parties get involved, which again raises awareness. Support for the armed forces is rising up the political agenda and I don’t see why this issue can’t be viewed as both a governmental duty and a charitable cause.

Dan Krikler
Kenilworth, Warwickshire


Franchises that risk becoming monopolies

The award of the East Coast rail franchise to the Virgin-Stagecoach consortium (report, 28 November) means that all three main lines north out of London (West Coast, East Coast & Midland) will be run by an operator comprising a significant Stagecoach presence. This is essentially a private monopoly analogous to British Rail Inter City which was broken up some 20 years ago on the mantra that privatisation creates competition which drives improved customer service and operational efficiency.

When National Express won the original Midland Mainline franchise it had to undertake to maintain coach services at current levels. Stagecoach is already undercutting National Express coaches using Megabus and Megatrain budget services feeding into East Midlands Train services; will a similar undertaking be required to ensure that Stagecoach doesn’t create a complete monopoly in the public-transport market between London, the Midlands, northern England and Scotland?

Dr John Disney
Nottingham Business School


Black Friday madness

If stores can afford to discount so much over “Black Friday” then surely they are ripping consumers off the rest of the time. Why do they not reduce the price of their products over the course of a whole year?

Seeing the images of fights and injuries, it seems as if companies are revelling in the infamy of it all. Imagine if a festival wilfully arranged such a dangerous situation – its organisers would be hauled over the coals. I hope that the Health and Safety Executive will investigate why shops did not provide enough security and staff to prevent chaos.

DJ Cook


What a hideous display of rampant greed, as normal decency is sacrificed on the altar of imported American-style consumerism. Black Friday indeed!

Nick Pritchard


Why are Health and Safety regulations ignored by stores when they organise their Black Friday greed stampedes?

Robert Tuck
Wimborne Minster, Dorset