Court fee hike set for next week
Controversial rises in court fees will come into force next Monday barring a parliamentary upset, the Gazette can reveal.
The 5% levy on all claims over £10,000, up to and including claims valued at £200,000, was approved at the delegated legislation committee stage in the House of Commons last week.
A further debate will be held in the Lords this week, and subject to clearing that hurdle the fees will come into force on 9 March.
The Law Society, other legal professional bodies and judges have condemned the changes as a threat to access to justice. Under the new scheme all money claims of more than £10,000 that go to court will be charged 5% of the value of that claim.
Implementation could accelerate plans for a judicial review to challenge the increase and may also see lawyers scramble this week to submit claims before the levy comes into force.
The Law Society last week issued a pre-action protocol letter as the first step to obtaining a judicial review of the increases. The letter has been signed by the Bar Council, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, the Commercial Bar Association, Action Against Medical Accidents and representatives of claimant and defendant lawyers.
The Society said it has collected case studies from solicitors showing what impact the fees would have on ordinary people seeking justice.
One concerned a pensioner with a claim against a financial adviser for the loss of his entire pension fund, for which the fee for applying to begin court proceedings will increase from £910 to £5,000.
Another case study found that a young girl with brain damage due to a failure by doctors to diagnose meningitis as a toddler will now require £10,000 to mount any fight for a secure financial settlement.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: ‘The government appears to be on a mission to turn the courts into a profit centre, amounting to a flat tax on those seeking justice. People whose lives have been turned upside down by life-changing injuries suffered through no fault of their own may no longer be able to afford to access the courts to seek compensation to fund their care.
‘As well as affecting those who have been injured, the increases may leave small and medium-sized businesses saddled with debts they are due but unable to afford to recover.’
The Society has pointed out that many solicitor firms currently underwrite their clients’ claims, but the new fees mean it is unlikely they will have the cash in the bank to cover the cost.
The fees are designed to raise £120m a year to help the government cover the cost of funding the court service in England and Wales.
Justice minister Shailesh Vara told the House of Commons last week it was ‘reasonable’ to suggest the fees will not have significant negative effect and that there was little risk they would reduce demand or damage legal services.