Government ‘Selling Justice Like a Commodity’
Government plans for a new round of court fee rises are ‘tantamount to selling justice like a commodity’, the Law Society has said, as the Ministry of Justice acknowledged its plans would be unpopular. Under proposals announced by courts minister Shailesh Vara after parliament rose for the recess, the maximum fee for money claims would rise 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 fee remissions for those ‘of limited means’ will still apply. Fees would be introduced to the property, tax and general regulatory chambers. In the property tribunal, the government is proposing fees at low levels for the majority of applications, while setting higher fees for leasehold enfranchisement cases ‘where there are often large sums of money at stake’. Immigration and asylum chamber fees would double, with exemptions ‘to protect the most vulnerable’. There would also be a ‘general uplift’ of 10% to a ‘wide range’ of fees in civil proceedings. The measures would generate an estimated £48m a year in additional income.
Vara said that ministers ‘recognise that fee increases are not popular’ but they were ‘necessary if we are to deliver our promises to fix the economy and bring the nation into surplus’. However, Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said the latest plans would ‘cripple’ individuals and small businesses trying to recover money owed to them. The MoJ also announced that, following consultations carried out by the coalition government earlier this year, it would increase fees for issuing a possession claim in the county court from £280 to £355. Fees for general applications in civil proceedings will increase from £50 to £100 for an application by consent, and from £155 to £255 for a contested application. Applications such as injunctions for protection from harassment or violence will be excluded from any increase. Fees for divorce proceedings will increase from £410 to £550. Fee remissions will be available for cases such as those involving women in low wage households. The three measures are expected to generate more than £60m in additional income each year. Smithers said the ‘punitive’ increases were ‘tantamount to selling justice like a commodity, leaving it out of reach for many ordinary people’. However Rebecca Harling, who works in the private client team at London firm Thomas Eggar, said the court fee rises were ‘necessary’. ‘It is right that those using the court system, who can afford to do so, should pay for its use,’ she said. Access to justice, she added, would not be compromised ‘as the fee remission still permits a waiver of fees or discounted court fees for those most in need’.
[Courtesy: The Law society Gazette]