Government plans to extend limits on recoverable costs to more complex cases are 'totally inappropriate' and threaten access to justice, the Law Society said today.
Chancery Lane was responding to proposals for civil justice in the consultation paper Transforming our justice system published by the lord chancellor, lord chief justice and senior president of tribunals yesterday.
The Society said that access to justice must be at the heart of any changes the government makes to the civil justice system.
Society president Robert Bourns (pictured) said: 'The Society has made clear that it supports the principle of fixed costs for lower-value and less complex cases, but the application of fixed costs for highly complex and high-value cases is likely to be totally inappropriate and will raise significant questions about the ability of many ordinary people to access justice.
'In particular fixed costs for higher value claims can be prejudicial and disproportionately disadvantage those on lower incomes and the vulnerable.'
In January this year Chancery Lane expressed concern that extending fixed costs to all civil cases valued up to £250,000 represents a tenfold increase on the current limit for many claims.
Extending fixed costs to such an extent will have an impact on group claims and those with cross-border implications, such as individuals holidaying abroad who are involved in an incident such as the collapse of a hotel.
Bourns added: 'The introduction of fixed recoverable costs for further civil work has been expected for some time and the Law Society agrees that fixed costs set at the right level could be appropriate in low-value claims, as they can provide greater certainty for both sides in litigation and they avoid protracted disputes about the level of costs.
'They can also reduce the problems caused by costs budgeting and assessment in civil litigation.
'Extending fixed costs to as many civil cases as possible, regardless of complexity and value, could lead to many cases being economically unviable to pursue, which undermines the principle of justice delivering fairness for all.'
The Law Society said it will be responding 'robustly' to the measures proposed in the consultation, which span both the criminal and civil jurisdictions.
'We will continue to engage with government and assist where possible to deliver on their objective – a justice system which is just, proportionate and accessible to all, regardless of IT literacy, wealth and background.'