The Government, via the Ministry of Justice ("MoJ"), has opened a consultation proposing significant increases in court fees. The proposal comes less than four months after the last round of fee increases for civil claims.
As we reported on 4 March 2015 – Court Fee Increase to Take Effect on Monday 9 March, the previous increase in fees took effect from 9 March 2015. Under plans revealed by the Ministry of Justice the additional increase could mean that fees for bringing a claim in some courts could double. This revelation comes only a day after the House of Commons adjourned for the summer recess.
The consultation proposes that the maximum fee (i.e. the 'cap') for money claims would increase from £10,000 to £20,000. Fees are currently payable on 5% of the value of the claim up to a maximum fee of £10,000.
Personal injury and clinical negligence claims will be excluded from the higher cap and free remissions for those 'of limited means' will still apply. Fees would also be introduced to the property, tax and general regulatory chambers.
The increases confirmed, expected to come into force later this year, are expected to generate an extra £60 million a year, while those under consideration could bring in £48 million annually.
Explaining the MoJ's proposals in a letter to Robert Neill, chair of the commons justice committee, justice minister Shailesh Vara MP acknowledged that fee increases were not popular, but said the courts and tribunals "must continue to play their part" in the "national effort" to reduce public spending, eliminate the deficit and reduce the national debt.
Referring to the previous fees hike many legal professional bodies and judges condemned the changes as being a threat to access to justice. They also received further criticism on the basis of their potential impact and damage they could cause to London's international reputation as a centre for dispute resolution.
Speaking about the proposals, Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: "All civil cases, from those filing for divorce to landlords needing their property back are affected by these latest punitive increases which are tantamount to selling justice like a commodity, leaving it out of reach for many ordinary people. This will only serve to widen the access to justice gap in our two-tier justice system. They will deny individuals and small businesses access to justice, crippling them when trying to recover monies owed to them."
Labour also condemned the move, with shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter saying the proposals showed a contempt "both for court users and Parliament".
The MoJ consultation will run from 22 July to 15 September. This will cause eyebrows to be raised as Parliament broke for its summer recess and will not return until later in the summer.
Meanwhile the justice committee has opened an inquiry into the effects of courts and tribunals fee regime. Various fees and charges were introduced by the coalition government, including employment tribunals fees, enhanced fees for civil proceedings and a mandatory charge imposed on convicted defendants. The select committee is seeking views on the impact of the fees and charges on access to justice and the competitiveness of the legal services market. The deadline for written submissions for this inquiry 30 September.
The inquiry into the increase in court fees (Courts and Tribunals fees and charges) can be accessed and responded to online.in: Civil Procedure, Legal News, News