You are here

Court fee hikes to spell ‘disaster’ for access to justice

'Extortionate' court fees will price low and middle-income earners out of justice and 'cripple business'

12 February 2015

Add comment

The 600 per cent hike in court fees will lead to insolvencies in small business and access to justice becoming a preserve of the elite, the Law Society has warned.

Data from nearly 200 solicitors found that the total value of cases brought by individuals would likely fall by around one-third under higher court fees, while, for small and medium-sized companies, it would halve.

Work from large companies was expected to fall up to a third (27 per cent), reflecting the generally higher value of claims and the corresponding lower effect of the fee increases.

Further, the areas of practice expected to be most affected include personal injury claims, litigation, small and medium size enterprises, private client work, and international contract disputes.

Solicitors told the Law Society that higher court fees would put people off going to court, even when they had genuine claims, and provide an incentive for large companies to deny liability, knowing that injured parties would not be in a position to fund expensive court fees.

Practitioners also suggested the fees would lead to small business insolvency as unpaid invoices mean cash flow and overdrafts become stretched.

This suggests that increased court fees could have a significant impact on access to justice for both individuals and businesses as fewer could afford to pay the higher rates.

The Law Society has long opposed the government's policy of seeking to recover the costs of running the civil courts through court fees. In 2013, it argued that a substantial proportion of the cost of the civil justice system should be borne by the public purse.

President of the society, Andrew Caplen, said: "Court fee hikes introduced by the government from April spell disaster for access to justice, pricing the public out of the courts and leaving small businesses saddled with debts they are due but unable to afford to recover. State provision for people to redress wrongs through the courts is the hallmark of a civilised society.

"We are pressing the government to reverse its decision which will have a far-reaching impact on people who have valid claims and on solicitors doing everything they can to help their clients seek justice through the courts."

Caplen continued: "The UK prides itself on its entrepreneurs and start-ups, but the government's 600 per cent hike in court fees could cripple the small and medium-sized businesses that play a vital role in our economic recovery.

"Companies suffering cash flow problems as a result of unpaid invoices simply do not have money in the bank to stump up extortionate court fees."

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

Categorised in:

Costs Funding & Costs Courts & Judiciary