Justice secretary Chris Grayling has promised the master of the rolls that he will review the effects of this month’s increase in civil court fees, it has emerged.
In a letter to Lord Dyson dated last Friday, Grayling acknowledged the judiciary’s concern about the increased fees and the potential impact on claims, in particular on victims of serious injuries who cannot fund their cases.
But he said many of the worries are addressed by the current fee remission scheme, which provides help for those who cannot afford to pay. In most cases, he said, these should ‘provide a framework’ to allow meritorious claims to be pursued.
However, in an apparent acknowledgement of difficulties, Grayling went on to say that he has asked Ministry of Justice officials to monitor the situation in respect of higher-value claims and consider whether guidance needs to be strengthened on the fee remission scheme for ‘exceptional circumstances’.
He added: ‘This would work alongside the current standard remission scheme and ensure that those who have meritorious claims but are genuinely unable to fund the fee through other means are not prevented from accessing the courts.’
The 5% levy on all claims over £10,000 was introduced on 9 March. It was preceded by a rush of claims being filed to take advantage of the old fees.
A decision to bring in the levy was announced less than seven weeks previously. After the levy decision, it emerged that the most senior judges in England and Wales had written in December to the MoJ to express ‘deep concerns’ about the change.
The letter was sent from the office of lord chief justice Lord Thomas and signed by master of the rolls Lord Dyson, president of the Queen’s Bench Division Lord Justice Leveson, president of the Family Division Sir James Munby, chancellor of the High Court Sir Terence Etherton and deputy head of civil justice Lord Justice Richards.
The judges warned of a disproportionately adverse effect on small and medium enterprises and litigants in person, especially those who fund cases after the event.
They also predicted the number of litigants in person is likely to increase, as litigants forgo legal representation to pay the fees.
In its response to the consultation, the Law Society accused the government of seeking to sell justice, contrary to the principles of Magna Carta.