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Government Taken to Task by Judiciary over Court Fees

By John Hyde » Deep divisions between the government and judiciary over court fee increases were laid bare in parliament last week. Master of the rolls Lord Dyson appeared before the justice committee of the House of Commons and immediately made clear his concern over the reasoning behind and impact of the rises. Joined by Sir James Munby and Sir Ernest Ryder, Dyson said ‘ordinary people’ who fall out of the safety net of fee remissions are being deterred from taking cases to court. He added that small and mediumsized businesses – ‘the sort this government says time and time again they want to encourage’ – are being put off seeking justice. Stressing that the judiciary had warned ministers of the ‘real dangers’ of both implementing and increasing civil court fees, he noted that the research in advance of reform had been ‘hopeless’ and amounted to little more than 31 phone calls to interested parties. ‘There was a great big gap in the department finances which had to be plugged,’ he said. ‘I get the sense it was almost a desperate way of carrying on.’ Asked if there was anything in the government’s argument which stands up to scrutiny, Dyson replied: ‘That is a very difficult question and I am not sure how to answer it.’ Munby, president of the Family Division, said that ‘shamefully little’ had been done to help rising numbers of litigants in person understand the court process, with information provided to them ‘woefully inadequate’. Incremental increases in court fees for divorce amounted to ‘another poll tax on wheels’ and were disproportionately affecting women, Munby said. Asked about the chances of an online court being set up to bring costs down, he added: ‘I am disappointed by where we’ve got to after many months of work.’ The government says its measures have not impeded access to justice. Justice minister Shailesh Vara said: ‘We’re ensuring quicker and fairer access to justice which reflects the way people use it.’


[Courtesy – The Law Society Gazette]