Court fee hike set for next week

Topics: Costs, fees and funding,Courts business,Government & politics

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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.

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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.

Readers' comments (32)

  • Ultimately it is for the government to govern - and of course be thrown out by the electorate - 66 days to go - but for a Justice Minister to say that there is little risk that the massive hike in fees will reduce demand is a lie.

    The government already has the evidence of what happened when Employment Tribunal fees were introduced. I wonder how the judges who rejected the Judicial Review application in relation to those fees now feel. They have made it virtually impossible for the JR in relation to the new court fees to succeed.

    Obvious to everyone that if the Ministry of Justice got away with ET fees then there would be no stopping them.

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  • I would encourage every firm up and down the country to start to use the often waived "Fee Exemption Form" and give this shower of protection racketeers a bloody nose. These people weren't chosen on merit, it was the marginally lesser of the various evils. It was down to a choice of which STI you would prefer of the several nasties. Shame on you Tory Toffs.

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  • This is what happens when you put sooo many genius's (NOT) in one room. When the doors are re-opened, it is a bunch of IDIOTS that waltz out

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  • If you have capital of £16,000 (and are over 61) or if you have capital of levels going up to £16,000 (and are under 61) - so for instance if you are claiming £5,000 and have capital of £10,000, then you will not be able to use the often waived (and for good reason) "Fee Exemption Form". Or if you receive an income of £1,085 a month, you will also be ineligible. Not much chance of using the Exemption, I would think.

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  • Hi Julian

    I've got 3 m/ts that I was planning to issue in the next 3 months, and now will be applying for fee exemption on all of them. I would've underwritten them all, as i've done in the past, but not any longer - £6k lost to the court there. If I do the same on most of my clients, tiresome though that might be [and unpaid work], it'll probably come back cost - neutral. IME, seriously injured people are likely to be on benefits, with diminished capital.

    If you're middle class with capital, and have a m/t accident, then yeah, you're right, you're screwed under these new changes. Even the heavyweight law firms will look more warily at a case where they have to fund it at this level, esp if it's no more than 60/40.

    I'd be more angry if I was a general civil litigator in the over 100k category, or their client. It's a wealth grab.

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  • If your client is exempt from court fees why are you not already not applying for the remission...? They are still your client's costs

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  • The punitive fees for employment tribunals have seen case numbers drop by over three quarters. Slashing legal aid has resulted in significantly more people turning up to court to represent themselves against others who can afford full and proper legal representation. With these new court fees it is clear that access to the law will be purely on a means basis and not for the likes of the vast majority of the population. The notion of access to justice has been completely crushed by this government and all who support it.

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  • Here, here and ALL by DESIGN I dear say

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  • This is clearly an attempt to prevent the vast majority of the population having access to justice. The burden falls on the average guy and small business whilst those who can afford city lawyers are pretty much immune.

    Shame on this government. Now I understand why my mother in law calls then the NASTY party. They are a government of toffs who live off their trust funds whilst pretending we are all in together - we are not. God help us if the CONservratives are able to form a majority government.

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  • It does raise a wry smile every time other lawyers criticise fees. Yes they've had a terrible impact on access to ETs, claims down 70-80%. But let's see a recognition of the impact of firm charges and remove the hypocrisy here. The biggest obstacle to access to justice is the incredible cost of legal services and the hourly rate antiquated charging method which is an open cheque book with litigation. Tribunal and Court fees are utterly dwarfed by the cost of litigation, just funding your own costs, let alone bearing the risk of the other party's costs in civil claims.

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