Hard-working taxpayers will not have to subsidise those using our civil courts. So said justice minister Shailesh Vara, confirming hefty increases in many civil court fees last week.
It is alarming to consider the assumptions implicit in that statement: that the civil justice system is a burden upon those who do not at any moment resort to it; that the state is not, as senior judges would have it in their response to the fee reform consultation, ‘under a duty to provide effective access to justice, irrespective of the state’s ability to secure full cost recovery’.
Quite the contrary. As the judges went on to observe, the changes are predicated on a ‘view that recourse to the courts is a matter of discretionary spending by those who can afford to and should pay its full cost’.
‘Hard-working taxpayers’ (don’t indolent folk pay taxes too?) might of course be more than willing to continue to subsidise the civil courts, were it explained that they would continue to be able to afford to access them should the need arise. Did anyone bother to ask them?
As with the huge swathes of law taken out of scope for civil legal aid a year ago, one suspects this is less about cost and more about small-state ideology.