I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


OK. Before cracking on I really need to exempt our First Base Agency Chairman Hilary from any of the thoughts about lawyers which are about to appear on this page. Hilary is a complete star in every respect and she is absolutely the kind of force for good lawyer that John Grisham has written about to such effect over the years.

So. Please consider that paragraph to be a disclaimer. Is it legally binding? Christ knows.

I recently got to thinking about the massive legal bills we all pay without realising it when my two sons were trawling the web in search of a sane motor insurance quote. Of course the ludicrous sums the young people of today are expected to fork out for their first couple of years driving are widely known. The going rate seems to be about £1800. For a newly qualified driver working full time on the minimum wage, this represents about a sixth of their total income which is quite frankly ridiculous. When I paid my first insurance bill back in 1977 I had a job delivering drinks to tables at the weekly Country and Western night at a local pup. Yeah. I know. A Country and Western night in Blackburn 1977! There were some sights, believe you me.


I cannot recall exactly how much I had to cough up to insure my venerable old VW Beetle, but I don’t remember it being particularly painful. It certainly was nothing like a sixth of my very part time income. So what has changed? Are cars that much more expensive? No. My ten year old Beetle cost me £400. Today I knock around in a ten year old Volvo Estate which set me back £300. Are the roads that much more dangerous? I very much doubt it. Car safety has come on in leaps and bounds and there were no speed cameras back then. Were the first time drivers of my generation that much more sensible that today’s? Aye right. I think it is fair to say that the youth of the late seventies was a whole lot more anarchic that today’s youngsters. After all it was the era of raging football hooliganism, street riots and punk rock.

So what has changed?

The law has changed.

Back in 1977 it was illegal for lawyers to chase ambulances in order to offer their services on a no win, no fee basis. It is yet another regrettable American import that we have opened our doors to. Now you only have to listen to a commercial radio station for half an hour to hear at least five ads for ambulance chasing law firms.

The result is the era of the cricked neck where a minor shunt can lead to an insurance company shelling out hundreds of thousands for the cricked neck of the driver of the car in front. Back in 77 the bill might have been fifty quid or so for a dented rear end. Now it can run to a couple of hundred thousand and the ambulance chaser in the middle of the deal will trouser a cool £80,000. Obviously the insurance companies have to find a way to get this cash back and they do so by crucifying the young.

Three years after I took my first spin in the Beetle as a newly qualified driver, I started out on what was supposed to be a career as a lawyer. Against all sensible odds this particular grammar school boy from Blackburn has blagged his way into a place to study law at Magdalene College, Cambridge. They gave us a couple of days to settle in and then gathered all the wannabe legal eagles together and loaded us up onto a train to London. We were met the other end by an old boy of the college who took us along to his chambers. Over coffee he basically told us how much money we would all make if we were to grit our teeth and eat up all the six hundred page books they were about to give us. Then he took as along to court to watch the whole thing play out in practice.

From the viewing gallery we got an hour long snapshot of a real live case. A woman from a high rise block in South London somewhere had arrived home with four heavy bags of shopping. The front door to her block was spring loaded so she used her back to push it open. This nearly worked, but not quite. It turned out that the door springs were stronger than the woman. The result? The shopping bearing woman was propelled outwards and onto a hard landing on the pavement. One broken arm and a law suit. She was suing the local council for putting too strong springs onto the front door of the block. The local council was defending itself by saying that the woman should have put her shopping bags down before negotiating the door. There were tables brim full of lawyers and paper. I asked a few questions. How long was the case going to last? Three days. How much would that cost? About £60,000. What would she get if she won? About £5000.

And there it was. The racket to end all rackets. All of the bills for the lawyers representing the woman were being settled by legal aid. As in the tax payer. All of the bills for the lawyers representing the Council were being paid from Council funds. As in the tax payer. So the whole £60,000 performance was being paid for by the tax payer in order to decide whether or not the very same tax payer should shell out a further £5000 for a broken arm.

Win, lose or draw, and the lawyers were guaranteed to get paid a living fortune. It seemed to me that the whole thing was a carefully choreographed charade designed to allow a few gilded individuals to get their hands on a fortune of tax payer’s cash. The law of the land was carefully set up to make sure that only fully qualified lawyers and judges were allowed to partake in the decision as to whether the woman form the tower block was to get her £5000. It was in fact a complete and utter racket. A monopoly of the very worst kind and on the train back to Cambridge I decided I wanted no part of it.

The next day I ended my three day legal career and switched to History.

I never cease to be amazed at how the monopoly of the legal world seems to avoid any great attention. Over recent years bankers, politicians, policemen and TV companies have all taken it in turns to be roasted on the spit while lawyers have been given a free pass. How can it be that the legal profession is allowed to operate in its own cosy cartel world with such impunity? Well I discovered the answer to that one way back in 1980. Ever since Charles 1 had his head removed and the House of Commons took control of the reins of power, over half of the MPs on the green benches have always been lawyers. They look after their own. Oh do they ever look after their own.

The difference now is that the bills we are all expected to pick up are a whole lot bigger than the £60,000 we shelled out in order to decide whether a broken arm was worth compensation.

For the last couple of weeks the HSBC tax dodging story has raged across the airwaves. Every man and his dog from all corners of the land are disgusted and appalled. How can it be!!!!

There is general agreement that about £80 billion’s worth of tax is being dodged. And there is a general agreement that everything possible should be done to collect the £80 billion of dodged tax.

So fair enough. Why the hell isn’t it collected? After all £80 billion is plenty enough to get rid of Britain’s structural deficit in one fell swoop. It seems to me that the truth is to be found when you listen to what the managers of HMRC have to say on the matter. If they decide to roll up their sleeves and set out on the task of getting the likes of Amazon and Starbucks to cough up their dues, they know exactly what will happen. Basically the mega corporations can afford way better lawyers than the Government can afford. It means that HMRC will be tied up in court for years on end and all the while their legal bills will go up and up and up. And in the end, the £2000 an hour lawyers representing the corporations will almost certainly win the day and the bosses at HMRC will have to try and explain to the hard boys in the Treasury why they have shelled out millions to lawyers and still got their arses kicked out of court. The corporations don’t care how much they pay out because it will always be a fraction of what their tax bill would be should they ever be forced to settle it in full.

So the easiest option for the managers at HMRC is to leave things be. In the end human nature will always win the day. If you have a career and a heavy London mortage, are you really going to put it all at risk by signing off on £20 million’s worth of legal fees to take on Amazon and lose? And then get yourself fired for your troubles?

Of course not.

And they don’t. They chase broke little businesses instead whose overdrafts won’t run to lawyers. The playground is never, ever level. If HMRC take on Amazon, the company will always have more and better lawyers and therefore win the day in court. On the flip side, when HMRC takes on a lad with a painting and decorating business in Barnsley, the exact opposite happens. He cannot afford to partake in the lawyer arms race and so he throws in the towel and either pays up what they say he owes or he goes bust.

So the bills the dodged £80 billion should settle remain unpaid. So who pays them? We do of course. How much? It’s about £1500 a year for every man, woman and child in Britain. All to allow a handful of uber lawyers to stay among the ranks of the super rich.

Cheers for that.

Right now there is a provision in the NHS accounts for £22 billion to be paid out in compensation. This is the hard cash end of the story that starts with all of those ambulance chaser adverts on the radio. As a rule of thumb the ambulance chases rake in 40% of anything they can shake the NHS down for.

As in £8.8 billion.

Gee Wizz.

That’s about 10% of the annual NHS budget. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are paying more on lawyers than we pay on nurses. Obviously if someone gets screwed by lousy treatment in hospital then it is only fair that they are compensated for it. But do we really have to gift £8.8 million to lawyers to make it happen? Well so long as those green benches of the House of Commons are home to hundreds of lawyers I think it is pretty clear that the gravy train will continue to roll smoothly down the tracks.

There really is no racket like the law. Maybe I should have stayed on the train myself all those years ago. I don’t suppose I would have been bouncing around in a £300 Volvo estate had I stayed the course.

What the hell. Sinatra time. Regrets? I’ve had a few. But then again…..!!       

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