Court fees will increase from next week after the House of Lords last night rubber-stamped the planned levy.
A 5% charge will be added to all civil claims valued at more than £10,000, with fees capped at £10,000. According to the statutory instrument, the order comes into force on the following Monday after it is made.
The government says the levy will bring in £120m a year to fund the court service and that the majority of current cases will not be affected.
Speaking during a debate in the House of Lords to approve the statutory instrument initiating the change, justice minister Lord Faulks maintained the principal reason for the fees was financial and to ensure the courts are properly funded.
‘There is only so much that can be done through cost-efficiency measures alone. In the current climate, we must also look to those who use the courts to contribute more towards the running of the courts, where they can afford to do so.’
But the fees brought criticism from a number of peers who spoke during the debate, which lasted until past 10pm.
Cross-bencher Lord Pannick, who tried unsuccessfully to introduce a 'regret' motion, said the hope now lies with a potential legal challenge to the fees. The Law Society, joined by a number of legal representative groups, has set in motion a judicial review bid to oppose the legality of the fees change.
Pannick said his ‘regret’ and ‘astonishment’ at the government’s action was only mitigated by ‘my optimism that the courts will inevitably add this order to the long list of Mr Grayling’s regulations which have been declared unlawful in the past three years.’
He added: ‘Funds are needed to pay for the court system, but there is no point in having a civil court system if ordinary people are to be charged an entry fee which they cannot afford to bring basic claims for breach of contract and personal injuries.
‘For many people - those suing for debts or to recover compensation for personal injury - litigation is often a necessity to keep your business alive or to maintain any quality of life. The minister is absolutely right that there are already many impediments to access to justice. That is surely no justification - no excuse - for the state to erect further high barriers.’
Section 180 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 provides the lord chancellor with a power to prescribe fees above cost. A consultation was started in December 2013 and the proposed fees unveiled earlier this year.
The Ministry of Justice has told the Gazette the courts will be prepared for next week’s new fees.
‘Changes have been made to HM Court and Tribunals Services computer systems and relevant public facing leaflets in readiness of Monday’s launch,’ said a spokesman. ‘We have also briefed court staff on the new fees.’