News & Events
Further barriers to justice
As part of its drive for economic recovery, the Government has announced plans to substantially increase the cost of going to court in England and Wales. Following a consultation process the Government has published proposals which include an increase to court fees for money claims to 5% of the value of the claim in relation to cases worth more than £10,000. The proposals are likely to be brought into effect by legislation within the next 12 months.
At present a civil dispute which is worth £190,000 requires a court fee of £1,315 to issue proceedings. This will rise to £9,500 if the proposals go ahead, an increase of 622%.
The Government Minister responsible for the courts Shailesh Vara claims in the Ministry of Justice’s response to the consultation that he is “proud that we live in a country which operates under the rule of law, and where we have such a strong tradition of access to justice” and that “it is vital that these principles and qualities are preserved so that people can continue to have ready access to the courts when they need it”. The department claims that 90% of money claims will not be affected by its proposals.
Yet senior judges and members of the legal profession in the Civil Justice Council have warned that the increase could act as an effective barrier to entry to the justice system through pricing many court users out of the courts and thereby reducing access to justice for some litigants.
The rationale behind the Government’s proposal expressed when the consultation opened in 2013 was that hardworking taxpayers should not have to subsidise the legal squabbles of millionaires embroiled in long cases fighting over vast amounts of money. Yet the Government has decided against raising the upper limit of £10,000 court fee for commercial cases for “practical difficulties” and these claims will be subject to the same fee regime as other money claims.
Therefore an unemployed member of the public incapacitated through injuries caused by medical negligence will have to pay the sum of £10,000 to issue proceedings at court to claim compensation of £200,000. The same amount that a commercial organisation with limitless resources would have to pay to bring a multimillion pound action.
With legal aid being removed for most clinical negligence claims by Government reforms in 2013, claims are mainly funded under “no win fee” agreements. Yet these agreements only cover the lawyer fees, with the individual being responsible for court fees and other expenses themselves. Many will now not be able to afford the fee particularly if they are elderly or have been out of the workforce for some time due to injuries caused through negligence.
Other claimants that will also be affected are small businesses, in contractual disputes or needing to recover a debt from a supplier or buyer. Small businesses are often forced to begin legal proceedings when buyers delay payment, as these actions can have a devastating impact on the cash flow of the business. Businesses will now have to consider carefully whether they can afford the significantly inflated court fee to commence proceedings and whether the debt is worth pursuing given the delay, the cost and the risk.
We consider that the proposed fee increases are completely disproportionate and we have real concerns that they will prove to be prohibitive, and will deter people from lodging claims altogether, thereby denying them access to justice. We are also concerned about the evidence base that the Ministry of Justice have used to come to its decision to increase court fees. It is clear to us that the potential impact is much more serious than anticipated.
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