The government has initiated ‘enhanced fees’ with uncharacteristic speed.
If traffic is backed up on the M6 today, blame Chris Grayling.
You can expect lawyers to be flying up to Salford claims centre this afternoon trying to issue claims before Monday’s new civil court fees kick in.
I’m told this morning’s post was bulging at Salford and already there are reports that lawyers will be hand-delivering files to beat the 5% levy on all money claims worth more than £10,000.
And why wouldn’t you? These changes, euphemistically referred to as ‘enhanced fees’ by ministers, will see fees for a £200,000 claim rise more than 600%. Those who don’t get their claims in before the postbox shuts will surely be risking a breach of their duty to clients.
The whole thing seems to have been carried out with undue haste. It's just seven weeks since the enhanced fees were announced by the government – late on a Friday, when most journalists will have had one eye on the weekend. There has barely been time to scrutinise since.
Most court users seem to have expected the fees to come with the new financial year in April, so it was a surprise to everyone to see them pushed through so quickly. This is a government that has sat on its response to the discount rate consultation for almost two years and counting.
Furthermore, it doesn’t feel like these changes have had anywhere near the level of scrutiny they should have received – the government has yet to even respond to a legal challenge from representative bodies.
The new regime is questionable to say the least. Will the government really recoup £120m every year from the fees – where is the proof of this? Is the 5% covering the cost of claims or subsidising the system in general? How are bodies such as the NHS and local authorities going to cope when they have to meet these costs further down the line?
The assertion from justice minister Lord Faulks in the House of Lords this week, that litigation is ‘very much an optional activity’, was laughable and offensive in equal measure. Injured victims did not choose their day in court – it was thrust upon them by someone’s negligence.
Could it be that ministers were trying to smuggle these fee increases through the back door to prevent just the kind of rush to issue that we’re seeing this week?
I understand there was general consternation at the glut of cases that flooded in before the Jackson reforms came into force in April 2013 – many of which have yet to conclude.
Perhaps the government was hoping it could raise these fees without anyone noticing and hence discourage such (understandable) opportunism.
Well, if that was the intention it doesn’t seem to have worked. And if I were a solicitor, I’d get the satnav set to Salford.
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor