Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The culture of callousness

It is common knowledge that the measure of a civilised society is given by the way in which it cares for its weakest members. Judged by that measure, I’m afraid, today’s Britain would not score very high - the sympathetic activities of our so-called social-democratic regime being more declamatory than real.

A culture of callousness seems instead to have pervaded Britain, the latest and most shocking example of which being the disgraceful treatment of the soldiers wounded in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As if possessed by some ungodly avarice, the government has adopted the moral philosophy of the money-changers, and has now the audacity to take those wounded in war to Court, for the purpose of minimising their injury compensations.
Taking from the most deserving and giving to the least - this is what the squandering of public money on frivolous schemes and dubious contracts, rather than paying for the state’s most basic obligations, equates to.
The whole charade of leaving the MOD to handle competing financial obligations on a fixed, limited, budget is just an unseemly subterfuge; the government could very well set up a separate, special, fund to settle the claims of the military and avoid this ugly and ungenerous quarrel.

Also nowadays there appears to be a stigma attached to any search for compensation – as if all those seeking to obtain financial redress for their losses were some kind of system spongers or benefit cheats.
The so-called ‘culture of compensation’ that many within the British Establishment often decry is, in fact, the normal application of the law; it is not charity.
The right to compensation represents one of the principal checks and balances that society has created so as to ensure that its weakest members have some protection against the might of the strong.
What is more, the prospect of litigation can make both governments and private employers much more careful when dealing with human lives.
Our government should be able to recognize these factors and strike a fair balance between ethics and their various financial priorities.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lord Woolf’s concerns

In December 2004, at the time when the Gaul RFI concluded and produced its final report, Lord Woolf, then Lord Chief Justice, was clashing with the government, an article published in the Times informed us, over a “matter of principle”.
The matter in question was Lord Woolf’s view – a view shared by other judges apart from the Lord Chancellor – that the final decision as to whether or not High Court judges should chair public inquiries, and who should be appointed to such duties, must necessarily rest with the head of the judiciary.
Lord Woolf was concerned that “public confidence in the judiciary’s independence could be harmed if judges were drawn into politically sensitive public inquiries” [*] where they could be seen as siding with the government, and that the separation of powers might be consequently compromised.
Lord Woolf was of the opinion that not all public inquiries were apt to be chaired by judges and that, from some cases of a “politically sensitive nature”, judges ought to stay well away.
Lord Woolf’s objections had been sparked, we were told, by the negative public reaction to the conclusions of Lord Hutton’s inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of the Government weapons expert David Kelly.
The Times article also listed the 13 inquiries which had been chaired by judges since 1997, and which included the sinking of the MV Derbyshire, FV Gaul and the Marchioness.

What struck us about Lord Wolf’s arguments, however, was the fact that his Lordship appeared more in favour of the judiciary skirting the politically sensitive cases rather than accepting the challenges they presented, giving thus the impression that the judges wanted both to have their cake and eat it… that is to remain both virtuous – preferably through non-exposure rather than as a result of personal endeavour - and on good terms with the government of the day.

And, reverting to the unfortunate case of the Gaul RFI, one feels tempted to ask, why is it that some of our judges, whose righteousness Lord Woolf was so keen to protect, having already sided with the government and having already been seen doing so, are still unwilling to make amends?

Are not our judges supposed to be the heroic defenders of the law’s basic commitments against the encroachments of politics? Is judging no longer concerned, as judge William E. Werner once explained, “with the romance of perseverance, of pluck and back bone”?


[*] Woolf wants final say over inquiries, The Times, December 15, 2004