When I was young the local pecking order started with the clergy, next came the doctor, then the solicitor if we were lucky enough to have one. Local, national and international politics were on the backburner because we were all suffering a stultifying apathy after the First World War. So you’ll forgive me if I start going off at the deep end at solicitors being allowed to advertise, and in particular the way in which the advertisements are couched. Some years ago, for some reason, which I never understood, solicitors were allowed to solicit. Almost immediately one of the group with whom I had had some dealings sent me a letter telling me that they were very happy to represent me if I felt I had a claim for damages. Naturally, I was appalled because I could see the potential this had for the unscrupulous to claim, especially as the solicitors were negotiating their own payment. No pay, no fee.
I don’t know whether it has escaped you, but in the advertising slots that the TV inserts into all the programs, there is a fair proportion of encouragement by legal companies, legally to suggest strongly that you make a claim on some pretext. It conjures up in my mind the images that we see in those wildlife programmes on television, where one animal has killed another, is feeding its young, but sitting on the trees surrounding this domestic scene, are vultures on every branch of every tree.
I remember some years ago there was, in Belfast, a public parking area that was reasonably level, while the road itself descended steeply, with the consequence that on one end there was a steep staircase made of flagstones down to the footpath. Regularly the staircase was damaged so that people could fall down and claim from the local authority. I have always felt, that apart from the Troubles, the average Northern Ireland person is easily as honest as those elsewhere in the UK, so this form of income is probably nationwide. To someone who respected the legal profession, who now finds that not only are the solicitors soliciting, but the Silks are being allowed to charge such incredible costs for their services, that anything legal today, especially where claims against the state are concerned, are running into millions – The Bloody Sunday Enquiry Is a case in point. Surely there must be a simpler system, which is an improvement in all respects on the current one, where the outcome of millions of pounds being spent isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. I suspect that this urge to go to law probably started in America, because we as a nation are phlegmatic, undemonstrative and stoical.