The old adage runs that where your treasure is, so there will be your heart. Put another way, in economic terms, you assign your limited resources to those items which you desire most.
It is not a secret that governments at home and around the global are running short of funds. With not enough cash to make ends meet, tough choices as to what will be funded have to be made. The choices which are made say a great deal about us as a society, about who we are and what we hold dear.
So in 2011, when state coffers began to run dry in Alabama, the decision was made to cut jury trials. Alabama was not alone in thinking that jury trials somehow represent a luxury item that can be trimmed from the family budget when times are tight. There were rumblings that a federal budget impasse could result in the elimination of all federal civil jury trials. Glynn County, Georgia also decided that civil jury trials were chaff for the fire in light of dwindling funds. There are now threats that the “Boston Bomber” trial might be delayed for budgetary reasons.
Now in merrie olde England, the font of our legal system, the Ministry of Justice is contemplating something that has not been countenanced before – the privatization of British courts. The plan, which is heralded as potentially saving the government £1 billion (roughly $1.5 billion), would privatize everything in the court system save the judges and magistrates. This means that courthouses, and those within them – from clerks to cleaning staff – would fall into the hands of private corporations.
It remains to be seen whether this plan will come to fruition but the thought that private hands could so control the mechanism of justice is terrifying. While judges would not be on the corporate payroll, they would in essence be a solitary figure stranded upon a company-owned island.
If privatized justice system ever came to the Untied States, I fear that the appearance of impartiality would give way to the value of naming rights and you might find yourself haled into the AT&T Judicial Center or making an appearance at the Pepsi Juvenile Court Complex. Add to this the question of what happens when Microsoft is sued but they also manage all the courthouse records on a cloud server? Will small claims court be moved into a stall at the 24-hour Walmart? Will Blackwater aid you in enforcing your judgment? Such questions I will leave at the steps of the Trump Supreme Court Building for resolution.
In the end, there are bad ideas and there are terrible ideas and then there is a privatized justice system.