MoJ set to impose 34% divorce fee hike next Monday

Topics: Family and children,Courts business,Government & politics

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  • Marilyn Stowe

The Ministry of Justice has slipped out confirmation that a 34% hike in divorce fees will take effect next Monday, despite strong opposition from family lawyers.

Last summer the MoJ consulted on a round of court fee rises, including a proposed rise in divorce fees from £410 to £550.

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But family lawyers only learnt that the fee increase would be implemented next week from emails sent out by divorce units, which referenced the increase in fees just a few days before they are due to come into effect.

A spokesman for the MoJ told the Gazette that both houses in parliament have now approved the fees. He said that the increase would come into effect across all divorce units on 21 March.

Marilyn Stowe (pictured), a senior partner at Stowe Family Law, criticised the move.

She told the Gazette: ‘The petition fee is already exorbitant and unjustified given the actual cost of a divorce is circa £270. It is wrong to overcharge those who have no choice simply because they are a captive audience, not least when this relates to the justice system.’

But she added that it was equally wrong to allow litigants full use of a judge and a courtroom for long periods, simply by paying a court fee. 

She said: ‘I have concerns that those who run the justice system have no obvious experience of running a healthy business and no clear aim of making the justice system a success, given there is a continuing indisputable demand for courts services.

‘It all needs to be fully reviewed and costed rather than simply making wild adjustments and providing a two-tier system online in the hope the problem will go away.’

Jo Edwards, chair of family law organisation Resolution, said: ‘The stealthy implementation of the hike in divorce fees, from £410 to £550 (after an increase only two years ago) is scandalous and not backed up by proper impact assessment.

‘As a result of the steep increase, many people currently in the process of separating will have received incorrect information as to the charge for lodging a divorce petition and, in reality, won’t have time to get their petition in before the fee increase takes effect.’

She added that the government should have waited until the House of Commons justice select committee published their findings into their inquiry on court fees.

‘Instead, the way in which this has been gone about, with no formal consultation or announcement, demonstrates a shocking lack of transparency from government. The manner in which they’re implementing this increase, by calling courts today and instructing them to charge more from Monday, is not how a responsible government department should act.’

In December last year Edwards told MPs at a House of Commons justice committee hearing on court fees that the increase would constitute a ‘tax on divorce’.

She pointed out that couples wanting a divorce, unlike other court users, would have no option over paying the fees.

A spokesperson at the MoJ said: 'Fees are never popular, but they are necessary if we are to reduce the burden of the courts and tribunals on the taxpayer. We have sought to protect the vulnerable at every stage. That is why we have a remission scheme to protect and help those who cannot afford to pay. These fee increases have not been brought forward; they are being introduced on schedule.'

Readers' comments (26)

  • This is utterly disgraceful. Vulnerable people are bing targeted yet again - this on top of those who wish to pursue matters in the Employment Tribunal, and those who are seriously injured, or small businesses with debts, or consumers with civil actions.

    Civil litigants are paying 620% for higher fees. I'm acting for a severely injured lady who is working at a much reduced capacity - and because her husband works, they won't get an expemption. The court fee is a disgraceful £10,000.

    Consent orders are hiked to £100 from £50 - and applications from £155 to £255 in a few weeks.

    I started a petition that only has 670 odd signatures, but really needs to gather some momentum. Please would you consider signing it, so that the government can be held to accout for this appalling tax?

    the url is https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/120263

    Contact your MP, make some noise. We have to stop this.

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  • Paul, what a sad post. I shall certainly sign your petition.

    But so far as PI claims are concerned, is it not time to look at the system differently? Should lawyers become involved at all? The Whipp's Cross case, assuming costs per side of at least £100,000, cost, mainly to the NHS, £250,000 to get £50,000,. years after the negligent act. A Martian landing in UK would find that unbelievable. He should have had an income stream immediately and provision should also have been made for his dependents, assuming he had any.

    I think the time has come for some other system to be created. Could a system of boards be created who assess what a claim is worth without lawyers being involved at all and based on written reports only?

    I can already hear the howls of disapproval. But do you approve the present system whereby a claimant can only receive 20% of the amount paid by the NHS? It certainly can't go on like this.

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  • Rip off Britain!
    I wonder if there could be a challenge under Article 8: right to respect for private and family life.
    For instance someone who is on limited income is going to find it hard or impossible to pay for a divorce and but needs to divorce so they can marry their new partner.

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  • David - the work would be painstaking in all but the most nominal of cases whether you removed the lawyers or not and nobody will undertake such painstaking work without suitable remuneration!

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  • David, you've shown time and again that you have no grasp at all on the realities of personal injury or clinical negligence litigation. Even when I, and others, painstakingly explain to you what you have got wrong, you nevertheless revert to your own misguided, ill-informed opinions which you then pass off as though they were facts. Why is this?

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  • Because he's a Tory.

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  • Many thanks David. It's not just PI - it's the other areas of litigation that have been hit that are causing so much difficulty.

    I am often in court against LiPs who can't afford representation - becauseof the court fees in some cases, and in front of a beleagured District Judge at the end of their teher. It seems that everything has been taken out of the court system (including clerks at the counters who now won't see you unless you have an appointment made the day before), and nothing put back.

    The system is outrageously failing. It has fallen apart and deseprately needs attention.

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  • ...I do apologise for my lousy typos above - it's my ham fisted typing, not my English!

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  • This is an absolute disgrace - hit the vulnerable yet again. "To no man shall we sell justice" - sounds rather empty in 2016 doesn't it?

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  • David
    Yes we could create a system of boards to decide what these PI cases are worth, oh hang on a minute, we have them already. They are called courts.

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