COURT FEES INCREASE WILL COST ALL OF US

Despite considerable opposition the plans to increase court fees by up to 622% have been introduced. Whilst the impact of this increase on individuals and small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) who are suing for debts or recovering compensation remains to be seen, we have little doubt that the Government’s assertion that the increase will not have a significant impact on access to justice will prove to be grossly inaccurate. You only have to look at what has happened following the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunal to know this. To put the increase in court fees in context, the fee payable to issue a claim worth £200,000 has been raised by £8,725. The government have argued that the extra money raised will bring in necessary revenue for the courts and will go towards improving court services at a time when national budgets are squeezed. It is a sad day when such a high price is put on “access to justice” and when the thinking from the government is that the civil justice system has to make a profit. It also remains to be seen whether the extra revenue that will be generated will be ploughed back into the court service. The comment from Justice Minister Shailesh Vara saying that, “It is only fair that businesses and individuals who can afford to pay and are fighting legal battles should contribute more in fees to ease the burden on hardworking taxpayers” has infuriated Steve Ireland, Partner at Hilary Meredith Solicitors. Steve said, “The comment of Shailesh Vara shows a lack of understanding of the financial status of many of those who have to access the civil justice system to obtain redress. “Those seeking compensation for serious personal injury or small business that regularly have to issue proceedings to recover substantial debts to keep their business alive, cannot necessarily afford to pay the grossly increased fees which is likely to mean that they will be prevented from accessing the courts.  This may encourage companies to delay or avoid paying their debts knowing that if their creditor is an SME or individual they may not be able to afford the fee to start court action. The cash flow of SMEs with already stretched resources will be severely affected. “I cannot think that any of us want access to the courts restricted to the wealthy but that may be a consequence of this government’s actions. “A further consequence is that in the personal injury sector most litigated cases are successful so it will be the opponent’s insurer who ultimately has to pay the increased court fees by reimbursing the Claimant at the end of the case. We all know what happens when insurers have to pay out more. They increase premiums and this will affect all of us. “I urge the government to reconsider its position and reverse its decision to implement these unjustified and disproportionate increases”