Family court fees, open justice, and SQE: your letters to the editor
Family court fees: a rise in the fall
Court fees are going up. See the Gazette article ‘MoJ pushes on with court fee increases despite majority opposition’ (1 September). In particular, family court fees are being hiked up too.
The fee for filing an application for a divorce, nullity or civil partnership dissolution will increase from £550 to £592, a rise of a little under 8%. An application for a parental order, parental responsibility and financial provision for children in Children Act proceedings goes up £17 from £215 to £232.
Local authorities with already tight budgets will have to shell out an additional £160, making the fee for care and supervision order proceedings to £2,215.
The new fees will apply from this autumn once statutory instruments have been laid.
The Law Society Family Law Committee’s response to the government’s original consultation on court fees landed on deaf ears. The committee said that a blanket increase across court jurisdictions was an inappropriate solution. It argued that, highlighting the significant change to family justice as an example, any proposed fee increase should reflect the work needed at each stage of proceedings by HM Courts & Tribunal Service (HMCTS). Fee increases should also be based on the impact on individuals’ ability to bring claims.
Our clients, as well as litigants in person, will be paying more for less. The Ministry of Justice cannot justify the fee hike given the appalling service provided by HMCTS.
I question how much is the underlying cost of a divorce. From today (13 September), all divorces must be done online. Moreover, on 6 April next year ‘no fault’ divorce will be introduced. Whatever the cost of a divorce to HMCTS, I would submit that each of these two events will drive it down further.
In its response to the consultation, Resolution was concerned at the disproportionate impact on women and victims of domestic violence. This is despite the government concluding in its equalities impact assessment that an increase in divorce fees would indeed disproportionately affect women regardless of whether they are in an opposite- or same-sex couple. Resolution pointed out that, in terms of age, when looking at opposite-sex couples, younger age groups, both men and women, are disproportionately affected.
It is useful to note that the last time the divorce fee was increased was just 2016 when the increase represented a 60% increase since 2013.
In 2015, the then government agreed that it was wrong in principle to seek to increase the cost of court proceedings associated with the breakdown of family relationships. It agreed that the fee should not deter people from seeking a divorce which could result in people being trapped in unhappy marriages, sometimes in circumstances of domestic violence or abuse, or unable to form new relationships which benefited from the full protection of the law, and was potentially discriminatory against women.
I urge family practitioners to write to their MPs to protest at this unwarranted increase in fees.
Family law solicitor and arbitrator, Dexter Montague, Reading
Open justice heading in the wrong direction
I read Joshua Rozenberg’s 2 August article raising concerns of the lack of basic information about proceedings of some public importance.
As a lawyer who does a lot of work in criminal appeals, I have had my own concerns about the increasing appetite from unidentified quarters to suppress public information for no good or apparent reason.
I often get requests to advise a client after their conviction or sentence. Usually, the first step is to get a transcript of the proceedings from the official court transcriber. Up until about four years ago we would pay a fee to the relevant court transcription provider and receive the transcript. Then there was a subtle change in policy whereby the request had to be ‘approved’ by the resident judge for the court from where the transcript had been requested. I was in a sensitive case at the time and suspected it may have been the trigger for this sudden change, but I have no evidence to support my hunch.
Of course, while I can see that it might be a good idea to make an additional check to ensure that the actual proceedings requested were held in public and not in camera (which is highly unusual but could have been done by the transcription company prior to release), I do not see why anything more was needed to obtain a transcript of court proceedings held in a public arena.
However, what I have found in practice is that, once disturbed, the resident judge often demands ‘justification’ for these transcripts and asks for ‘good reason’ why we should be ‘entitled’ to the transcript; the mere fact that we are solicitors of the senior courts doing our job is often not sufficient.
I have to conclude that notions of open and transparent justice are heading in the wrong direction.
GT Stewart Solicitors & Advocates, East Dulwich, London
SQE: plus ça change?
I read the 2 August ‘Testing times’ feature on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination. As a veteran solicitor, I would note that, 50 years ago, an aspiring solicitor would need to obtain an acceptable university degree and pass Part 1 and Part 2 of the solicitors qualifying exam before embarking on two years’ articles of clerkship.
Today, an aspiring solicitor will need an acceptable university degree and then pass SQE Part 1 and SQE Part 2 before embarking on two years of qualifying legal work.
Apart from the terminology, what has changed?
Trevor F Moore
Notary public and solicitor, Ibstock, Leicestershire