The most senior judges in England and Wales have publicly expressed their ‘deep concerns’ at ‘dramatic’ increases in court fees.
The Ministry of Justice announced on Friday the introduction of fees for all claims above £10,000 based on 5% of the value of the claim.
Justice minister Shailesh Vara said there was ‘no alternative’ but to look to courts to raise funds, with the new fees expected to raise £120m a year.
But the country’s most senior judges have said they are united in their opposition to the fees in a letter sent in response to the MoJ consultation, which was published today.
The letter was sent last month from the office of the lord chief justice Lord Thomas (pictured, right) and signed by master of the rolls Lord Dyson (pictured, left), 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 bringing claims, especially those who fund cases after the event.
The judges warned the number of litigants in person is likely to increase, as litigants forgo legal representation to pay the fees.
There are also concerns about the effect on claims for unspecified amounts of money, including personal injury cases where a valuation has not been completed at the start of a case when the fee is payable.
Many claims are also issued in the Rolls Building that do not specify the sum of money claimed as the court’s role is primarily to grant an injunction or provide some other remedy. Other claims involve an estimate starting from a base figure, which turns out to be much higher – and the judges asked how these fees will be calculated.
The judges’ response notes that the impact assessment for the proposals makes ‘some very sweeping and, in our view, unduly complacent assumptions’ about the effect on court claims.
The 2014 research involved questioning 31 civil court users, only nine of which were businesses. Just 12 of those interviewed were pursuing claims above £10,000 which will be subject to new fees.
The judges’ final objection related to London’s attractiveness as a centre for international disputes. They welcomed the decision not to introduce daily hearing fees for commercial cases, but said there are still fears that commercial work will move elsewhere.
‘The fees proposed are 25 to 100 times greater than those payable in New York,’ said the judges. ‘A real concern will be uncertainty over future fee increases and the possible imposition of daily hearing charges putting major litigators off London, particularly as commercial cases can take years to develop.’
The concerns echo those expressed by the Civil Justice Council, made up of senior judges and practitioners, in its response.
The CJC said it was ‘extremely concerned’ about the 5% levy, which will act as ‘an effective barrier to entry to the justice system through pricing many court users out of the courts and thereby reducing access to justice’.
The new charge was the government’s response to a consultation last year on court fees.
In a separate consultation, which ends next month, the MoJ has asked for views on proposals that possession claim fees will rise by £75 and the fee for general applications will go up from £50 to £100 for applications made by consent and from £155 to £255 for contested claims.
These increases would apply equally to all applicants.