The master of the rolls was wrong to dismiss research behind court fees as ‘lamentable’, a justice minister said today.
Shailesh Vara (pictured) was giving evidence to the justice select committee of the House of Commons a month after Lord Dyson told the committee that the process of calling 31 court users in advance of the introduction of fees was a ‘desperate way of carrying on’.
Pressed on the judge’s words during his own appearance before the committee, the minister told MPs Dyson had not taken into account four other pieces of research.
‘I hear what the master of the rolls says but I do not accept his criticism,’ said Vara. ‘We had act quickly and take tough decisions: we took them with the evidence and research available at the time… we did the best we could under the circumstances.’
The minister said his department had taken the decision that in principle people who use the court should pay towards the costs.
During an earlier session featuring both the Law Society and Bar Council, MPs were told that this perception of England and Wales being expensive for litigation will be exploited by rival jurisdictions with lower fees.
Alex Chalk MP suggested to Vara that fees have resulted in justice being seen as a ‘cash cow’ which could send international litigants elsewhere.
In response, the minister said: ‘People do not come to the UK for legal services because of our costs – they come here because of the quality of our lawyers and the independence and quality of our judiciary.'
Referring to a paper published by the Centre for Policy Studies thinktank, he said: ‘A report last Friday spoke of a doubling of charge-out rates in some solicitor firms – if the lawyers despite their fees increasing find people are coming still, court fees will not be a deterrent.
‘Court fees are a tiny proportion of the overall legal costs that parties incur: if an individual or company were thinking of bringing a case to the UK their first thought would not be "what are the court fees in the UK?".'
Vara confirmed that a review of employment tribunal fees was due to have been completed by the end of last year, but is yet to be completed.
He added that the criminal court charge, stopped on 24 December, was ‘suspended’ and he refused to rule out a revised version being introduced in the future.
* Read John Hyde's blog here on Vara's evidence session.