Taxes and Courts

Ever since I joined government, I’ve always wondered how the court dockets could be decongested. That was my first boss’ advocacy — not surprising since he was the Court Administrator — and, while it’s never risen to the level of an advocacy for me, the idea of cutting down the case load of trial courts has bugged me nonstop.

When I joined the EMB, I had the opportunity to see the problem from another angle. Up to that point, I’d only seen the congestion problem as an issue that arose out of the slow rate of case disposition. The judges were taking too long to get the cases resolved, leading to the build up of the backlog.

But as part of the EMB, I realized that frivolous suits contributed to the problem, and that many of these suits came from politicians who had found an easy way to get into the papers: file a case!

And then this morning, as I was trying to figure out what was being said on morning tv, five words jumped out at me: Sin taxes on junk food. And as these things happen, something clicked in my brain. If the state can tax junk food, can’t it tax other things as well?

The theory behind taxation — well one of the theories anyway — is that it is the price a citizen pays for being allowed to do something by the state. Taxes, therefore, are a form of permission. Okay, that might be stretching the definition a little, but it’s not entirely out of the park. Work with me here.

Take sin taxes on cigarettes, for example. The state has decided that smoking is a health hazard, and therefore, has come to the determination to discourage smoking. Ergo, put a tax on cigarettes. Paying the tax essentially gives a smoker permission to engage in an activity the state would rather he didn’t.

Doesn’t it follow then, that if there were some other activity the state didn’t want me to engage in, it could similarly tax that activity?

Assuming, on the other hand, that congested courts are a menace to society — justice delayed is justice denied and all that — can the state not then declare that it wants to de-congest the courts by limiting the number of cases force fed into the justice system? This was essentially the reasoning behind the arbitration schemes of both the barangay justice system and the national labor relations commission, wasn’t it (yes, it was)?

So, on the one hand, you have the taxing power of the state; and on the other, you have a rationale for limiting access to the courts. Why not put the two together and TAX LAWSUITS?

Ok. It’s a rough proposal, and there will certainly be issues about potentially imposing a property requirement on access to the justice system. But nothing insurmountable, I think. Mechanisms can be put in place to review, for instance, the indigency of the plaintiffs, and filing fees are already par for the course anyway. This proposal merely posits the possibility of imposing additional fees on certain suits which, upon vetting, are determined to be pure barratry.

Just putting this out there for discussion. I am not married to the idea, and I have certainly not given it too much thought. But then again, I don’t think anyone should get into the habit of dismissing ideas simply because they go against the grain.

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