Monday, May 18, 2009
Fairness is rather like an elephant - it's hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Small children know what is fair and what is not, even when their own behaviour is selfish. As a magistrate I find that many decisions are simple everyday ones where we work within the framework of our guidelines, but there are still many choices to be made every day where we do well to ask ourselves "is this fair?". Sometimes, although an offence had been admitted the surrounding circumstances lead us to impose an absolute or conditional discharge, or to assent to a bindover, because it is not fair to impose a penalty.
This recent judgment, ending the disgraceful practice of using tips from customers to top up staff wages in restaurants and clubs so that they reach the legal minimum wage level is manifestly fair (and isn't it particularly disgusting that an upper-crust nightclub, frequented by the rich and privileged should try to cheat low paid staff in this way?). Well done to the court, although I have a sneaking feeling that the case arose more from HMRC's fear of losing tax than any concern for the workers.
This on the other hand is grossly unfair. The antics of many private clamping firms amount to little more than legally-tolerated extortion, in which hundreds of pounds are taken from drivers, many of them elderly or distracted by a carload of kids, in a blatantly money-driven exercise. I have seen quite a few cases arising from this activity. It is so lucrative that in one or two local car parks the shaven-headed and burly clampers wait in a plain van in the corner of the site, ready to apply a clamp within a couple of minutes of a victim's arrival. Of course I have no quarrel with enforcing parking restrictions, as so many drivers are utterly selfish as to where they park,
but it is unjustifiable to charge £300 or so, with no independent appeal available - that's just unfair.
The Scottish judiciary sorted this out years ago. The fact that the scam flourishes in England and Wales shows that our legislators have no interest in proper enforceable regulation of the sector, despite the daily injustice visited on ordinary motorists. I suppose that MPs must have more important things to worry about.
Later - Here is another example.