• Robert Spicer

MONEY AND THE LAW


Money is the key which unlocks the meaning of English law. Lord Bingham has commented that equality before the law is an aspect of the rule of law. He stated his view that the laws of the land should apply equally to all and that it is the duty of the state to make the machinery of law work alike, for rich and poor. If all law were to be abolished, which is not to argue that it should , then thousands of workers in the law industry would be made redundant. Police, prison officers, probation officers, court ushers, civil servants, judges, lawyers, paralegals, ancillary workers, workers in legal publishing, gown makers and wigmakers – all have career structures built on the legal system.

It is a fundamental mistake to see this system as some sort of social service, or even as part of the state apparatus. Look at most firms of solicitors or sets of barristers’ chambers. The bottom line is not academic expertise, justice or state control. It is profit. This explains why so many small, socially conscious operations fail. Groups of lawyers whose commitment is to something other than money find it very difficult to survive without taking highly-paid work to boost their bank balances.

The reality is that many solicitors, barristers, legal executives and the whole panoply of the “justice” system see law as a way of making a good living.

This general criticism of lawyers as willing participants in the money-fetish society does not include the undoubted selfless dedication of many of those involved in law centre and advice work or on the radical fringes, who do not see themselves as acting in the commercial interests of the profession.

Money is a God not only in the legal system. Materialism throughout society is reflected in the practice of law. Money control of the legal system reflects increasing money-worship in British society. The fetishisation of money reflects its role as the supreme representation of social power, and the functioning of the legal profession is an exemplar of this representation.

Redundancy Practice as an employment lawyer currently involves an increasing number of redundancy cases. Typical matters involve workers who have been made redundant, or threatened with redundancy. They have families to support and mortgages to pay. They have no wish to spend their limited savings on lawyers’ fees. The law relating to redundancy is complex, and it is very difficult for redundant workers to be able to pay to discover the extent of their rights or the possibility of enforcing those rights. Homelessness Money is the key factor leading to the repossession of homes and the eviction of families. The non-payment of rent or mortgage instalments, purely a financial issue, is the basis for legally-enforced homelessness, for putting families in the street.

Unpaid wages · Many contacts through the former free employment advice website related to unpaid wages. Typically, the enquirers were single mothers with unskilled or semi-skilled jobs who had been underpaid, or not paid at all, for weeks or months. They were in desperate financial circumstances. They had complained formally to their employers, without success. They were not members of trade unions. They had only a vague idea of their legal rights. Some might have contacted the Citizens’ Advice Bureau or other advice agencies.

· The legal position – that there is a right to complain to an employment tribunal for unlawful deduction from wages – or a claim though the county court – has very little practical relevance for these workers. Consulting a solicitor is out of the question because of cost. Often, a formal letter from a lawyer on headed paper will result in payment. But the cost of such letters through the mainstream profession means that this remedy is largely illusory.

· To some extent, the English legal profession can be seen as colluding with what can be described as a form of modern-day slavery in its failure to provide such workers with the means of redress. In recessionary times, these problems can only get worse, and lawyers will not help unless they are paid sums which are so far removed from unpaid workers’ resources that the remedy does not, in reality, exist.

· The solution is a national network of community Law Centres, properly funded and staffed, offering free advice on an open-door basis. The cost of such a network is minimal compared with, for example, the amount of tax avoided by large corporations and the financing of illegal and/or unwinnable wars.

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