The Law Society today issued a pre-action protocol letter for judicial review to challenge the government’s decision to increase some court fees by over 600%.
The Society claims the new fees would be tantamount to ‘selling justice’, contrary to the principles of Magna Carta.
Other grounds on which the Law Society and other legal representative bodies are challenging include:
- That the government does not have the power to raise fees for the purposes it has stated in its consultation, to make ‘departmental savings’;
- That the government is proceeding without evidence to justify the increases, which are effectively a tax.
Consultees were not told how much money needed to be raised from enhanced fees or why – this is a breach of the government’s own consultation principles, which state that sufficient reasons must be given for any proposal to permit intelligent consideration and response.
When the government tabled its second round of proposals on higher fees for possession claims and general civil applications, it had already made up its mind about certain options.
The government also failed to allow representations on enhanced fees in combination with amendments to the remissions scheme, the letter says.
The Society has asked the government to provide information on how much money it proposes to raise through enhanced fees and what it will spend the money on. It has also asked the government to explain how modernisation of the court services will appear in the government’s accounts.
Additional signatories to the pre-action protocol letter include: the Bar Council, CILEx, Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL), Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS), Chancery Bar Association, Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) and the Commercial Bar Association (COMBAR).
Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: ‘The government’s policy on "enhanced court fees" amounts to a flat tax on those seeking justice. The government’s hikes - due to come in from April - will price the public out of the courts and leave small businesses saddled with debts they are due but unable to afford to recover.’
However the government defended the rises. Justice minister Shailesh Vara said: ‘Our courts play a critical role and it is vital that the principle of access to justice is preserved by a properly funded service. It is only fair that wealthy businesses and individuals fighting legal battles should pay more in fees to ease the burden on taxpayers.
'These changes to the fees structure won't apply to 90% of claims, and waivers will also be available for those who cannot afford to pay.'