Fee income from civil courts reached almost £800m in the last financial year, new figures have revealed. The annual report of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, covering the year ending March 2017, states that the service brought in £186m from family justice fees charges and £602m from civil justice fee charges. In total, £64m was paid out over the period in fee remittance.
Once spending on civil justice was taken into account, the government recorded a surplus of almost £102m.
The figures are a sign of the increased scope and level of fees levied against parties entering the civil courts - fees which have been opposed by many members of the legal profession.
HMCTS recorded an overall loss of £162m on tribunal business. Employment tribunal fees were worth £11.7m, of which £3.9m was remitted, while asylum and immigration fees brought in £12m, with £2.5m paid out in fees remitted. However, spending on tribunal business came to around £180m, leaving this area in deficit.
Full-time equivalent staff numbers in the court service reduced by 5.6% in the year to 15,749. Agency and contract staff numbers increased by 37% to 1,480. HMCTS said it has deliberately recruited staff to temporary roles to minimise the risk of redundancy to the permanent workforce.
Five years ago the department had 17,587 staff and 682 agency workers.
The government has dramatically increased income from court fine collection in the past year, the report reveals. The annual trust statement from HM Courts and Tribunals Services states that revenue from fines in 2016/17 increased 37% to £362.5m, compared with the previous year.
But total impositions revenue fell overall from £1bn to £900m, with income from confiscation orders down from £357m to £209m. The criminal court charge ended midway through the 2015/16 year, in which it brought in £66m. That income was no longer available in 2016/17.
The government trumpeted technology improvements in the court service, including enabling 40,000 lawyers to access court Wi-Fi every week, taking pleas online for certain traffic offences, and trialling the ability to apply for a divorce online.
Susan Acland-Hood, chief executive and accounting officer, said the £1bn five-year investment into the court service is on course to bring annual savings of £320m.
She added: 'As more of our products are services are successfully transformed, the difference between what has been previously considered "reform" and what is considered "business as usual" will become less distinct. Reform is no longer an idea on a page or a picture of a theoretical future - it is a series of changes to how we work now that will make us better at what we do.'