Why does justice cost?



“To no man will we sell, to one deny or delay right or justice.”

The core principle, from Magna Carta in 1215, should be followed in all aspects of law. Today in Britain some people are denied justice, and not just because the police say they haven’t got the resources to tackle petty crime. If your employer refuses to pay your wages, you have to pay £390 for an employment tribunal. There is absolutely no justification for charging victims of wrong-doing to lodge their case. The administrative costs of the legal system should be funded by taxation or heavier fines for those convicted.

The employment tribunal process takes at least three months, often delayed further by compulsory mediation because the government doesn’t trust you to negotiate yourself. This allows time for the other party to abscond or make themselves bankrupt. If you win the case, you are then expected to pay additional fees to the court to enforce the order and, often, to trace the other party. Fees are not refundable in the frequent case of failure. It is estimated that about 20% of court fines are never paid. Many trickle in at a few pounds a week whilst the debtor continues to live extravagantly. The British public have learnt that they can avoid debts forever with a combination of hard luck stories and a knowledge of generic collection processes.

In the nineteenth century, there was a better system for resolving disputes. It was called the magistrate’s court. You went to your local one, outlined your complaint and the magistrate issued a summons. In the event of someone not immediately paying a fine issued by the court, they were sent to jail. The Victorians didn’t have the same laws protecting employees, but understood and applied the core principle of Magna Carta. Why can’t everyone access free justice today?

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