Disenfranchised, unheard, hurt and powerless: raging against a giant uncaring bureaucracy


In most instances, the disparity of power between the “David” and their particular “Goliath” is all too apparent. However, in the opening session of the Commercial Litigation Summit on 24 May it was a group of hugely influential City partners: Ted Greeno of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan; Edward Sparrow from Ashurst; John Reynolds of White & Case; Craig Connal QC of Pinsent Masons; and former High Court Judge Sir Bernard Eder of Essex Court Chambers who very eloquently described their collective distress at their inability to get their voices heard in relation to the underinvestment and lack of apparent support from the Treasury in relation to the provision of judicial services.

Sir Bernard Eder described a situation in which his clerks were prevented from printing documents on one side of paper only thanks to a penny wise and pound foolish attempt to save money - leaving him without a space in which to make notes in his bundles. He depicted a “jobsworth” environment, in which people were prevented from doing things that were necessary (and which they were quite willing to do) because it was not their job to do such things.

Judges are apparently required to work ever longer hours using an antiquated IT system. This system’s inadequacies prolongs their days and delays their work, resulting in 80, 90 or even 100 hour weeks. Quite apart from pettifogging bureaucratic interference, their pay and pensions have been cut. This innovation has already led to a steady flow of departures from the bench and has made it ever harder to recruit high calibre members of the Bar and the Solicitors profession as Judges.

In our article of October last year, “Killing the Golden Goose”, we attacked Michael Gove’s suggestion of a tariff or “super-tax” on the legal profession as self-defeating. We pointed out that “The legal sector as a whole and principally “City Law” generates billions for the economy through the provision of legal services to UK and international corporates and individuals. The collection and remittance of VAT, corporate taxation and personal income taxes from this sector alone amounts to a significant proportion of our GDP. If Mr Gove’s figures are correct and the “Top 100” generate £20 Billion, then the Treasury will (subject to set off and to services provided overseas) receive up to £4 Billion from VAT alone”.

At first glance it could seem like a group of millionaires complaining about their lack of influence - at best, a very first world problem. In reality, it was not self-interest which motivated the panel to speak about this issue. It was a real and appropriate concern that this systemic sneering and poking at the profession publically undertaken by politicians for votes and aped by civil servants to curry favour is truly harmful to the interests of the nation. This is not hyperbole; it is the presence of first class lawyers and judges which makes London the largest financial centre on earth and encourages global corporates to base themselves here. Without the tax contribution from such business AND from the profession the salaries and gold plated pensions of both politicians and civil servants would not be paid. London accounts for 25% of the tax collected in the country.

The government rightly assumes that no one will cry too hard if a few wealthy lawyers are discomfited by their actions. In their myopic and short-termist way they will squeeze until there is no more juice to be had. They will only care about the effects of their actions when it is far too late to bring back the businesses and lawyers that underpin the country’s finances - but that will be in another parliament and so does not matter.

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