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Court fee hikes will make legal rights 'meaningless'

Law Society president says it is wrong for the courts to make a profit for government

16 September 2015

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The government should halt further increases to court fees after previous hikes failed to deliver tangible improvements in the court service or protect access to justice, says the Law Society.

The Ministry Of Justice's (MoJ) consultation on lifting the current cap on court fees has been met with widespread resistance from the legal profession.

Speaking today, the Law Society's president, Jonathan Smithers, said: 'There has been no assessment of the impact of increases, just six months ago, of more than 600 per cent.

'Raising the fees further may render ordinary people's legal rights meaningless because they simply would not be able to afford to enforce them.'

In its response to the government's proposals, the Law Society said homeowners and taxpayers, as well as those involved in asylum claims or complex clinical negligence actions against the NHS, would feel the impact of the court fee increase.

Smithers also commented that it was 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,' he added.

The Law Society has also reiterated its concerns for higher fees for divorce claims. The estimated cost of such proceedings, according to the MoJ own figures, is £270. The government, however, proposes to increase the charge to £550.

'It is disappointing that the government is seeking to gain from the misfortune of people who are going through the difficult circumstances of divorce,' added Smithers.

The Law Society also echoed fears raised by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) over the impact of fee increases on small businesses.

'Small and medium sized businesses are also likely to be disproportionately affected by the government's proposals,' Smithers said.

'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.'

In addition, the society's president said that higher fees for intellectual property claims would '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'.

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

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