What price Justice? Court fee changes under fire

The government is to press ahead with higher charges for civil court proceedings to recover money owed, which solicitors’ leaders warn could price the public out of the courts.

The Ministry of Justice, which published its response to a consultation on proposed reforms to court fees on 16 January, plans to increase the fee to issue proceedings for the recovery of money to five per cent of the value of the claim for all claims over £10,000. It said: “The fees for claims of less than £10,000, which represent over 90 per cent of all money claims, are unaffected by these proposals and will remain at their current levels.”

The maximum fee to issue proceedings will be £10,000, the fee payable to issue a claim for £200,000. Typical cases include recovery of debt such as loans, utility bills and business debts owed under contract for goods or services delivered.

The consultation had also put forward proposals for higher fees in commercial proceedings and to start divorce proceedings but the government decided against implementing those recommendations.

It plans to introduce the legislation necessary to implement the new fees before the start of the 2015-16 financial year, subject to Parliamentary time being available.

The increased fees have come under fire from organisations including the Civil Justice Council, an advisory body that oversees and is responsible for modernisation of the civil justice system. It said it was “extremely concerned” by a fee based on five per cent of the value of a claim.

It warned that this could effectively price many people out of the courts, adding that it could have a “disproportionately adverse effect on some groups e.g. small and medium enterprises, low income individuals and thereby undermining equality before the law.”

The Law Society also attacked the fee increase; President Andrew Caplen said: “We will be pressing the government to reverse its decision which will have a far-reaching impact.”

He said they would, “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”.

This much publicised increase in civil court fees looks set to take place on Monday 9 March 2015, barring a parliamentary upset, so the last day for issuing proceedings under the old regime is this Friday 6 March.