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Landlords, businesses, and bereaved families will suffer from court fee hike

Lord Chancellor cannot justify fixing 'two nation' justice system with 1,000 per cent fee increase, says CILEx

15 September 2015

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Proposals to raise civil court fees, which would represent an increase of more than 1,000 per cent in six months, has led to lawyers calling on government to postpone its plans.

The Ministry Of Justice (MoJ) has been consulting on lifting the cap on court fees from £10,000 in cases where claimants are attempting to recover money to a possibly unlimited amount, and raising all other civil fees by 10 per cent. Courts minister Shailesh Vara is hoping to recoup £48m from the fee hike.

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), whose members work in all practice areas across England and Wales, has already expressed concerns over plans to close 91 courts and tribunals and merge or integrate 31 more.

The combined actions of increasing court fees and closing local courts may, according to CILEx, cause irreparable damage to our justice system, and leave small businesses unable to reclaim unpaid invoices, landlords unable to reclaim unpaid rents, and bereaved families unable to settle will disputes.

The president of CILEx, David Edwards, said he wanted to work with the government to find 'workable solutions' to fix the justice system, but argued that a further increase in court fees was not one of them.

'In March the government increased the cost for small businesses and regular people to seek justice by increasing the court fees,' he commented.

'The impact of the first round of increases has not been adequately assessed, let alone what impact a further increase in fee might have on access to justice. This cannot be justified if the Lord Chancellor is genuine in his desire to fix our "two nation" justice system.'

The introduction of the already eye-watering price tag to bring a claim caused uproar in the profession, with the Lord Chief Justice, the Civil Justice Council, and the Bar Council arguing the fees will restrict access to justice and cripple small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The Law Society president, Jonathan Smithers, said in July: 'The government introduced dramatic hikes to court fees just months ago. These latest proposals will increase fees by up to 1,320 per cent for some cases. They will deny individuals and small businesses access to justice, crippling them when trying to recover monies owed to them.

'All civil cases, from those filing for divorce to landlords needing their property back, are affected by these latest punitive increases which are tantamount to selling justice like a commodity, leaving it out of reach for many ordinary people. This will only serve to widen the access to justice gap in our two tier justice system.'

Richard Thomas, a senior partner at DTM Legal, recently highlighted how the increased fees applied to court fees would negatively impact on SMEs and their access to justice.

Meanwhile, Oliver Carter and Rachel Francis, co-chairs of the Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) group, said the increased court fees for civil claims, along with employment tribunal fees and the criminal courts charge had a 'similarly pernicious impact on access to justice', and the ability to seek legal redress 'should not be determined by financial means'.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal | @JvdLD

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