The Ministry of Justice is setting up a refund scheme for litigants who were overcharged for their civil court fees, the Gazette can reveal. It emerged this week that claimants starting proceedings in the High Court and County Court since 2016 have been charged £308 rather than the £205 they should have been.
The figure covers cases – usually personal injury claims – with a value estimated between £3,000 and £5,000. These litigants should have been paying the lower fee to begin proceedings but their claim was wrongly categorised as one for ‘any other remedy’.
The MoJ wrote to lawyers in March admitting issues affecting claims in stage three of the pre-action protocol, where liability is admitted but quantum is not agreed. The policy would change immediately. after the MoJ concluded it was ‘not appropriate’ to charge the higher fee.
A justice spokesperson told the Gazette: ‘We recently reviewed our guidance on fees for stage three claims and identified that we have been charging the incorrect court fee in some cases. As a result we issued revised guidance to the courts in March and we will be setting out details of a refund scheme for those who were overcharged in due course.’
It is unclear exactly how many claims have been affected by the overcharging. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) asked for figures in a freedom of information request, but was informed last month that it would cost too much for the MoJ to answer.
Brett Dixon, APIL’s president, said: 'Based on what our members have told us it seems to have been since the fee changes introduced in 2016. The MoJ appears to be taking steps to find a remedy for those affected, which is of course welcome.'
The ultimate extra cost is likely to be have been met by insurers, although in many cases claimant firms cover the upfront cost of court fees and may be out of pocket themselves.
The policy change was preceded by the threat of judicial review led by Jon Heath (pictured), a partner at Liverpool firm Levins Solicitors. In one particular claim, the court initially did not take an issue fee and costs were settled on the basis of the correct fee: when the incorrect fee was later charged the court was alerted and the problem started to unravel.
It is believed that different courts had employed varying practices when it came to charging fees for stage three claims but at some stage were issued with a new government policy to charge £308 across the board.
Heath said: 'The broader significance is that for months (perhaps years), every litigant with a claim worth no more than £5,000 has been overcharged.'
'It remains to be seen whether the insurers will be entitled to refunds – I think as a matter of principle they ought to be. It could be quite a large-scale operation for the MoJ.'