Court Fee increases – Law Society response
The Government's consultation in regard to the further Court fee increases closed on 15 September 2015.
As set out in my previous articles, the Law Society has been vocal both prior to, and throughout, the consultation. Their formal response was published on 16 September 2015.
The Law Society remains concerned that the Government wishes to implement further Court fee increases, despite the increases introduced in March failing, in their opinion, to deliver any tangible improvements in the Court service or helping protect access to justice. 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 the response, the Law Society expands on the point made by Jonathan Smithers. It is the opinion of the Law Society that the impact of the increases could 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;
- Tax payers. Tax payers have a statutory right of appeal against amounts of 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.
In addition to the above, concern has always been voiced about the impact of the Court fee increases on small and medium-size businesses. Commenting specifically on this, Jonathan Smithers also said:-
"Small and medium-size businesses are also likely to be disproportionately effected by the Government's proposal. 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 that they are rightly owed".
In its response, the Law Society has also reiterated its concern for the implementation of higher Court fees in regard to divorce claims; in addition to how higher fees for intellectual property claims will "directly oppose the aims of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, namely to offer less costly and less expensive alternatives to High Court and Patents Court".
One would hope that the Government will take on board the points made by the Law Society and the other bodies who have voiced similar concerns because the impact of the proposed increases are significant. However, this will all depend on the Government's long term objectives in regard to the supposed protection of access to justice.
The response of the Law Society can be viewed at www.lawsociety.org.uk/policy-campaigns/consultation-responses/court-and-tribunal-fees/.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.