Senior judges lambast government over court fees

Topics: Civil justice,Costs, fees and funding,Legal aid and access to justice,Government & politics

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  • Lord Dyson

Deep divisions between the government and judiciary over court fee increases were today laid bare through a rare barrage of public criticism.

Master of the rolls Lord Dyson (pictured) 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 his colleagues 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 their cases to court.

He added that small and medium-sized businesses - ‘the sort this government says time and time again they want to encourage’ - are being put off seeking justice.

He said the judiciary warned ministers of the ‘real dangers’ of both implementing and increasing civil court fees, and noted the research in advance of reforms was ‘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.’

Dyson was asked if there is anything in the government’s argument which stands up to scrutiny, to which he replied: ‘That is a very difficult question and I am not sure how to answer it.’

He said that the Ministry of Justice had ‘made an assumption’ that demand would not be affected by the increases on a ‘very limited evidential base’, adding that ‘I was extremely sceptical’.

Questioned whether the government’s suggestion that insurance and lawyers paying fees up-front would act as a safeguard, he said: ‘They say that, but what is the research upon which that is based? I have not seen any.’

Munby, president of the Family Division, said there had been an increase in litigants in person but that ‘shamefully little’ had been done to help them understand the court process, with information provided to them ‘woefully inadequate’. He added that the court had attempted to make the court proceedings more accessible but often lawyers ‘don’t understand’ the kind of language used by the person in the street.

Munby said incremental increases in court fees for divorce amounted to ‘another poll tax on wheels’ and were disproportionately affecting women.  

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.’

Ryder, who said the government should seek to explain the 70% fall in employment tribunal cases after fees were introduced, expressed ‘reservations’ as to the specialist capacity within the MoJ to deliver services through the digitisation programme.

The government says its measures have increased the use of mediation and have not impeded access to justice.

During justice questions today, justice minister Shailesh Vara said: ‘We’re ensuring quicker and fairer access to justice which reflects the way people use it.’

Readers' comments (26)

  • Its would be easy to be smug from the remarks of Dyson et al but, as a Solicitor, I am distressed at such an erosion of the Rule of Law we have seen by the Government to save money. They then offer bonuses...perks...six figure salaries etc.

    They increase the court fee so those who through the nose and those who cant; do not have access to justice possibly accounting for the neutrality of the savings/income.

    Suggesting that Lawyers pay up front is idiotic. Why, in an open market(which is what they wanted), would any business pay such amounts up front for any service (sic).

    I envisage the above falling on deaf ears and the conclusion being filed in the section BIN (in the corner of the office).

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  • 70% fall in tribunal cases, how come surely the union they belong to would stump up the fees up front as thats what they are there for.
    Sorry unite to busy building university flats to find a few quid for their members.

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  • ‘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.’

    Lawyers pay Court fees more than anyone;, wait until you raise the Small Claims Track, then you will see “monumental big gap in the department finances”

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  • It is utterly farcical for justice minister Shailesh Vara to comment that any changes are resulting in quicker or fairer access to justice. There is nothing quicker or fairer to the process because of a higher fee.

    Anyone on the ground will tell you they are experiencing significantly greater delays in all courts over the telephone, receiving orders from months ago, delays in hearings being listed all combined with higher court fees. How are we supposed to explain or justify this to a client?

    The simple but unpalatable fact is that fee increases are a thinly, barely, veiled attempt to reduce the number of claims.

    An online court would be fantastic but in reality one fears that the court are only just getting to grips with email. How they are supposed to deliver what would be an incredibly expensive software solution with an already stretched and significant budget cut is beyond me.

    In other news, great that the judiciary are making their voices heard in such unambiguous terms and well done to them even if slightly self serving as a result of their dealing with more LIP's. More of this speaking up please. The Law Society and Bar Counsel should be right behind them regarding this shouting loudly and in unison for maximum exposure and impact.

    The legal industry is hugely important to our economy. It adds to inward investment confidence. Access to justice is a human right that is being impeded by the back door. Few would mind if the fees actually resulted in a better, quicker and/or fairer service, but they just aren't- the impact is worse than ever, and in that context the existing increases (let alone further increases) are simply unacceptable.

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  • Remind me, was it the government or the judges who decided that 'post-Jackson proportionality' meant that costs both reasonably AND necessarily incurred would be disallowed if considered to be 'disproportionate' (whatever that arbitrary and subjective word means). Oh yes, that's right, it was the judges. A modest increase in the already outrageous fees is nothing compared to the blight to be visited on genuine claimants by this product of the bench's latest eureka moment.

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  • Yes the Civil Justice system has to be paid for but the cost should be paid by the many and not by the few. An open Civil Justice system is for everyone’s benefit. Would it not be far better to impose a much smaller fees spread across a greater number. For example in relation to compensation claims would not be better to have a “pre-action registration” fee and thereby spread the cost over tens of thousands of people all of whom benefit the Civil Justice system. Dispute settle because in most cases past court decisions provide clear guidance The approach of making only those who litigate pay higher and higher fees will not only reduce access to Justice but will undermine the system of Judge made law if disputes are settled in private outside the court system

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  • Yes Gavyn Atkinson, raising the Small Claims Limit to £5000 for personal injury claims will open the flood gates for LIP's, creating a tidal wave of LIP's supported by CMC Mackenzie Friend's.

    As the LCJ reported last week that 77% of Judges were stressed out, each court will need a psychologists chair to cope with the increased stress.

    Also, solicitors help fund the Court system now by funding court fees for clients. Clients will not be able to afford the fees, and many injured victims will be deterred from recovering their losses because of the cost and complexity of the court process. Winners - the insurance industry, losers innocent accident injured victims.

    But insurance premiums are at the highest for 5 years and the insurers have just increased premiums by 10% to take account of the 3.5% hike in IPT. Winners the government and the insurance industry. Losers the general public.

    The Chancellor has no proposals to monitor the insurance industry to ensure savings on claims are handed down to policy holders. He made this clear in a written answer to a parliamentary question raised by Andy Slaughter MP last week.

    Corroboration for the above is on the AJAG web site

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  • I've just done a costs schedule in a completed RTA PI case and the Court Fees are 60% of the Schedule- more than Counsel's fees, Engineers fees and Medical fees put together. It is a disgrace and the MOJ wants more based on 31 phone calls which were presumably to members of the ABI.

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  • The Civil Courts already more than self funded themselves through fees, even before the fee increases. Civil fees have always, to a degree, subsidised the other Courts on the muddle-headed thinking that civil litigation was an elective expenditure.

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  • It's somewhat ironic that this supposedly pro-free market government has consistently ignored the views of Adam Smith LLD, who of course held access to justice and equality of arms to be prerequisite of the free market (certainty of transaction etc), rather than part of it.

    But at least it's masochistically satisfying to see the Master of the Rolls so eloquently stumbling over a question: "Dyson was asked if there is anything in the government’s argument which stands up to scrutiny, to which he replied: ‘That is a very difficult question and I am not sure how to answer it.’"

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