Court fee increases introduced six months ago failed to deliver any tangible improvements in the courts service or help protect access to justice, the Law Society said today.

Responding to a government consultation on the impact of the new fees, it said they would price small businesses out of exercising their legal rights, such as recovering debts.

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: ‘There has been no assessment of the impact of increases, just six months ago, of more than 600%. Raising the fees further may render ordinary people’s legal rights meaningless because they simply would not be able to afford to enforce them.

‘It is wrong in principle for the courts to make a profit for government. Our members have told us that the government’s fee increases will stop people being able to bring legitimate cases, particularly people on lower incomes.’

In addition, the Society reiterated its concerns for higher fees for divorce claims. The estimated cost of such proceedings to the courts, according to the Ministry of Justice’s own figures is £270, but the government proposes to charge £550.

Smithers said: ‘It is disappointing that the government is seeking to gain from the misfortune of people who are going through the difficult circumstances of divorce.’

In its response, the Law Society said the impact would be felt by:

  • Homeowners trying to resolve disputes: for example, in construction disputes the value of the claims involved can be significant and the claim affecting the only valuable asset that homeowners have;
  • Taxpayers: taxpayers have a statutory right of appeal against demands for tax. By introducing fees, the government is effectively attempting to implement a financial penalty for exercising a statutory right of appeal against its own tax demand;
  • People harmed by the NHS: many complex clinical negligence claims, particularly birth accidents, are high value. Further increases will limit the ability of those harmed to seek compensation for the harm they have suffered;
  • Immigration and asylum claims: high fees will mean families cannot afford to challenge refusal of leave to remain and other proceedings, which could lead to their being separated.

Smithers added: ‘Small and medium-sized businesses are also likely to be disproportionately affected by the government’s proposals. Doubling some fees to £20,000 would price small businesses out of exercising their legal rights, forcing some into insolvency as they have no way of recovering debts they are rightly owed.

‘Higher fees for intellectual property claims directly oppose the aims of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, namely to offer a less costly and less complex alternative to the High Court and Patents Court.’