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Djanogly reverses abolition of court fees in care proceedings

21 October 2010

In an unexpected announcement, the justice minister, Jonathan Djanogly, has today reversed the abolition of court fees for local authorities in care and supervision proceedings.

There were strong protests from the Law Society, the Bar Council and the NSPCC when massive increases in fees, from £150 to over £4,825, were imposed by former justice secretary Jack Straw in 2008.

Four councils, supported by the society and the NSPCC, launched a judicial review. Although it was rejected by the High Court, Straw abolished the fees in March this year (see, 23 March 2010)

In a written statement to the Commons this morning, Djanogly said: “I have carefully considered the decision of the former secretary of state and believe that there is no justification that these fees should be abolished and as such they will remain.

“Protecting vulnerable children is paramount and I do not believe that continuing to charge these court fees will place vulnerable children at risk.

“Local authorities have a statutory duty to investigate instances when they suspect a child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm and it would be unlawful for local authorities to consider financial considerations when deciding whether to do so.”

Djanogly said former PwC partner Francis Plowden’s review for the MoJ found that resource issues could play a part in determining whether proceedings were initiated but believed this only occurred “at the margins”.

“He confirmed that this conclusion was based on anecdotal evidence alone and also stated that it was unlikely that children have been knowingly left at unavoidable risk by local authorities,” Djanogly said.

“The fundamental principles in setting court fees at levels that reflect the cost of the service being provided are now more important than ever in the drive to ensure all departments are transparent and accountable for the money spent on public services.”

Djanogly said the cost of keeping the fees had been factored into the spending review settlements for the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Welsh Assembly government.

“Furthermore, in the light of the work currently being undertaken by the family justice review panel it would be premature to remove the fees for care and supervision proceedings,” the justice minister said.

“The review panel is looking at options for reform in both public law and private law cases.

“The review is due to publish its final report in Autumn 2011 and I will review the fees for care and supervision proceedings following these findings and any proposals that seek to change the way in which these cases are dealt with by the courts.”

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Local government Courts & Judiciary