Keeping up the fight

Topics: Civil justice,Law Society activity,Government & politics

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  • Andrew Caplen

The Law Society’s relentless lobbying over civil court fee rises and related justice issues has paid dividends. But following counsel’s advice a judicial review bid has been ruled out.

Political campaigning has certainly stepped up a few gears since parliament dissolved less than two weeks ago.

MPs have returned to their constituencies and commenced canvassing, the first televised leaders’ debate has been broadcast and the results of various opinion polls seem to be published on an ever-increasing basis. It is clearly going to be a hard-fought election campaign.

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There have been various statements from the main political parties on various aspects of their justice policies, one being in relation to civil court fees. Earlier this year the Law Society did, of course, lead a coalition of partners - the Bar Council, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, Forum of Insurance Lawyers, Motor Accident Solicitors Society, Action Against Medical Accidents, Chancery Bar Association and Commercial Bar Association - in a campaign against fee increases of 600% in some civil cases.

We did all we could to raise the profile of the issue, securing extensive media interest including a comment piece published by the Daily Telegraph, a letter printed in The Times and an interview on Sky News. It also made BBC Radio 4’s Today programme with Lord Pannick QC highlighting the Law Society’s concerns. We also supported solicitors in lobbying their MPs and undertaking local media interviews. Many provided case studies which showed what a serious issue this is for those seeking to access justice.

They were of great assistance in raising the profile of this important issue.

At the end of February, with the support of other legal representative bodies, we issued a pre-action protocol letter to the government. Our view was - and is - that the increases amounted to a ‘flat tax’, going far beyond recovering the true costs of administering claims through the courts. The letter was a signal that we were considering court action.

We recently received advice from our counsel. Having carefully considered that advice we have decided not to take the next step of seeking a judicial review. But that does not mean we are giving up. Far from it. Our relentless lobbying has led to Labour and the Liberal Democrats stating that they will review the court fee increases if they are part of a new government.

Further, officials at the Ministry of Justice were instructed, shortly before parliament was dissolved, to keep the situation under review. We will continue to closely monitor the impact of these fees on people and businesses endeavouring to seek redress through the civil courts.

We have also been continuing to press wider civil justice issues. For example, we have consistently warned the government of the dangers of its civil legal aid policies. In March the justice select committee called for an urgent review of the changes made to civil legal aid - we will be lobbying for this to take place early in the new parliament. What has transpired surely goes far beyond what was originally intended.

Notwithstanding the fact that parliament has been dissolved, there exists a tremendous opportunity for all of us to question - and challenge - our local candidates on their policies for justice. Our general election manifesto provides a number of realistic and balanced proposals for reform in three sections: (i) making society a fairer place; (ii) strengthening the UK’s global standing; and (iii) boosting the UK economy. This, and a campaign pack, are available on our website.

The NHS, education, immigration and the deficit may dominate wider political campaigning. But now is surely the time for all of us to remind parliamentary candidates - and the wider population - of the devastating impact that recent changes, which make it even more difficult for ordinary people to access justice, are having upon this country.

Andrew Caplen is Law Society president

Readers' comments (6)

  • Relentless lobbying ??!!!
    TLS wouldn't know relentless lobbying if it met it face on unless it were fighting purely for self interest or the CoOp ( see the absolutely ridiculous heading for the CoOp story - TLS has sunk to depths even I didn't think it to be capable of)

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  • Dividends? What dividends? What on earth is Mr Caplen talking about? What utter rubbish.

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  • The Law a Society give up the fight. A sad day for civil justice. The bank of civil justice has paid no dividends by raising Court fees. Access to justice is a fundamental right and the civil system was already paying for itself before these retrograde shortsighted increases.

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  • This was never going to be an easy battle for the profession. The Courts are in a shambles (outside of the Bulk Centres) and the wisdom is that increasing fees will increase funding, so that is what they did. I am sure this will be (yet another) hot topic at the annual Civil Court Users Conference, but what else could the profession realistically do? Had the JR proceeded, even if it was successful, it would have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, taken time, and in the end, the result in terms of Court fees would have been the same. Lobbying only seems to work if you are a large corporation or billionaire with a history of "donations" to the party of those being lobbied. This is just another attack on access to justice, and until the judiciary join the fight (since they are independent) then us lawyers are just flogging a dead horse.

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  • The Dodo has more relevance than anything Pres Caplen may wish to say.

    Disband the Law Society - NOW!

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  • The judiciary independent-they seem to do the governments bidding to me.

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