The Ministry of Justice has said it will consider the findings of a critical report from MPs on court charges – but has insisted the most vulnerable are still protected.
The Commons justice committee yesterday called for an overhaul of the employment tribunal fees scheme and scrapping of the recent increase in the divorce petition fee.
A full response to the committee’s report is likely in September, but in the meantime the MoJ has defended its record on the imposition of fees.
A spokesman said: ‘The cost of our courts and tribunal system to the taxpayer is unsustainably high, and it is only right that those who use the system pay more to relieve this burden.
‘Every pound we collect from fee increases will be spent on providing a leaner and more effective system of courts and tribunals.’
The committee focused much of its report on the need for changes to the remission system, which reduces fees for those who can show they are in financial need.
In particular, with employment tribunal fees, MPs called for the income threshold to qualify for fee remissions to be increased.
The MoJ said it intends to publish a review of tribunal fees – due out more than six months ago – ‘in due course’, but on the subject of remissions it added: ‘We’ve made sure that the most vulnerable and those who cannot afford to pay won’t have to.’
Courts and tribunals cost £1.8bn in 2014/15 and generated £700m in income – a position the government says is unsustainable.
The Law Society welcomed the justice committee report and said the government must now heed the views of experts from across and beyond the legal profession.
President Jonathan Smithers added: ‘All civil cases, from divorce, employment and immigration cases to landlords and small businesses trying to get their property back, are affected by fee increases which are tantamount to treating justice like a commodity. Justice is increasingly out of reach for many ordinary people. This will only serve to widen the access to justice gap in our two-tier justice system.’
Bar Council chairman Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC said the government’s lack of research before implementing fees meant they were a ‘shot in the dark’.
She added: ‘The Ministry of Justice’s evidence base for the charges was flimsy, and insufficient time was allowed to assess the impact of other, concurrent changes in the civil justice system.
‘The reality is that employees, small businesses and others who may have a legitimate claim are being denied the chance to pursue it because of fees which they cannot afford.’