Thursday 17 June 2010
Saville and Jarndyce
Bleak House happens to be one of my favourite novels by Charles Dickens. It centres in part on an interminable legal battle, a case known as Jarndyce v Jarndyce. Nobody quite understands the original causes of the case. All they know is that it's a dispute over a will, a dispute that serves only the interests of the lawyers, people for whom time is money; for the more time they spend wrangling over Jarndyce v Jarndyce the more of the legacy is eaten up in fees and expenses. In the end the case is settled...but only when there is nothing left.
The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings.
So says Charles Dickens in the novel. I'm sure he would be pleased to discover that nothing much changes; that the inquiry of Lord Saville into the events of Bloody Sunday, the shooting by British troops of Irish protestors in Londonderry back in 1972, took twelve years to report at a cost to the tax payer of almost £200million.
Actually, on reflection, even the Lord Chancellor in Jarndyce v Jarndyce may have been shocked by this mad profligacy, this legal joke at public expense. Let's have a look at the figures, shall we? According to a report I read today in the Daily Mail Saville spent £34million on computers alone. That means that every page of his report cost £7000; yes, every page. It actually gets worse. His lordship spent more than £200,000 on furniture and £62,000 on something called 'media monitoring', paying a company to check the press, the television and the radio to see what they were saying about Jarn...sorry the Saville Inquiry.
The dear old judge claimed a mere £20,000 in personal expenses, not bad, I suppose, for twelve years. But, wait a moment: look at his travel expenses. For bills which involved commuting between London and Londonderry he claimed £322,413. It seems to me that it would have been better to buy this man a private jet; it may have been a lot less expensive in the end.
The tedious bill goes up and up and up: the fourteen barristers involved made several millions from the inquiry, with the best rewarded pocketing four million pounds each. Eversheads, one of the legal firms involved, was paid more than £13million for interviewing witnesses. And then there is the £23million that went on offices and halls, as well as £25.8million listed in the accounts as 'operation of systems/maintenance.' Best not to say anything about the £2.5million written off as 'general office expenditure'
In the end the whole bill came to exactly £191.2million, roughly the equivalent of £4 for every man, woman and child in the whole of the United Kingdom, and that is not the end; for legal bills and other expenses are still coming through. It's a joke but sadly the joke's on us.
This is the Court of Chancery, which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire, which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead in every churchyard, which has its ruined suitor with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress borrowing and begging through the round of every man's acquaintance, which gives to monied might the means abundantly of wearying out the right, which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope, so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart, that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners who would not give--who does not often give--the warning, "Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!"