Sunday, 30 December 2012

Fun and games

Ever play a board game without first reading the rules?

What happened? You probably had arguments about what should be, from a viewpoint biased by circumstances, disagreement on then reading the rules about their interpretation (again coloured by the situation in hand) and generally too wide a gap between at least one person’s expectations and reality.

Then what? Tantrum? “I’m not playing”? Game ruined?

So it’s only a game.

Well, no - it wasn’t just a game. It was an opportunity for entertaining and rewarding joint venture, fulfilment and to set a precedent for future collaboration. Something really important was lost or never came to pass.

Why? Because there weren’t any rules or because not enough people understood them or had chance to do so. Games are only fun if you have rules.

In the game of Life we have rules. Whether or not they have an overwhelming moral or religious platform, they’re to be found within that centuries’ worth of assembled wisdom we call Law.

Law is good – really. To a large extent the mere fact that society, or the majority of it, has written a rule that you shouldn’t kill, rape or steal is enough to stop it happening. Monitoring and audit, by a system of penalties, adds to the effect.

But it’s not just the criminal law, to which many people’s thoughts immediately turn, but also – and in fact to a greater extent – our civil law that makes the game worth playing.

Individuals and businesses need to know that if they commit themselves and their assets in reliance upon the assurances of others then they’ll have a remedy when let down, deliberately or otherwise.

People whose livelihood is damaged or being hindered, whether as a worker or business owner, need a solution and repair.

Innocent victims of accidents need a means to ensure that they are not left with the burden of somebody else’s carelessness - the unfairness and misery of a life damaged or wrecked by misfortune.

So how are our rulemakers – government and the courts – getting on with ensuring the game is fair and effective, one that the overwhelming majority of participants are keen to play?

Government isn’t. It’s headed firmly in the opposite direction.

It’s hiking the price, raising the barriers to entry, restricting the number of players (See Kick ‘em when they’re down, Fire at will)

It’s taking away the means for those who don’t understand the rules to get help from those who do (Whiplash backlash, Five grand, Cabaret Voltaire)

I don’t necessarily believe that government as a whole has any agenda other than (largely misconceived) efforts to economise, although the private interests of some key players in the insurance market don’t help to nurture any such confidence against the background of selfishness and corruption that was exposed in Westminster recently.

But the ruling classes are seemingly driven by those with nothing but their own commercial and political interests in mind. Liability insurers – our equivalent of the US gun lobby – have been repeatedly exposed in the last year yet seem still to hold sway in Downing Street (Business as usual, Reading the Riot Act and many more…)

The NHS, consistently wrecking lives through incompetence and carelessness, seems blinded to its inadequacies by the professed belief that lawyers are the cause of its problems. Which came first - the cock-up or the lawsuit? This is not chicken and egg . (See Legal highs, Repeat prescription)

What of the courts? Judges have a nasty tendency on occasion to stand up and tell ministers that they’re wrong, as they should if there is to be - and remain – effective separation of powers vital to our democratic constitution.

But the squeeze is on the court system, tighter and tighter, so that in many respects it has become a sickening joke (To me, to you) Disillusionment and fear for own livelihoods amongst many but the most senior judiciary of independent means and uncompromised principle will take their toll.

The only visible hope for preservation of service standards appears to be the enthusiasm to welcome Russian oligarchs and other well-heeled litigation tourists.

And the lawyers – the game-testers, guides and champions? How many of them will be around this time next year?

The direct assaults on ordinary players’ ability to take part are being supplemented and the effects compounded by the indirect attack that is the destruction of funding sources and models. Legal aid has almost disappeared. Conditional fees and recoverability are now three months away from virtual destruction.

Lawyers as a whole won’t break the rules but they will leave the game (No more heroes) and those who don’t know how to play will spend forever arguing about rules they don’t understand, that were badly or only half-written in the first place, until anyone left who had a clue will despair and quit (See DIY litigation disaster)

Game over. What then? There’s plenty else to play of course. Look around the globe right now for examples - a glimpse of the future.

“Gang Rape”, “Drugs Cartel”, “Civil War”…

Want to play?

No, neither do I. 

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