Friday 6 March 2015

Court fee increases approved

Like the Ritz, justice is open to all
Court fees will rise as a result of approval by Parliament of a Statutory Instrument imposing the increases - Law Society Gazette 5th March.  For many people in need of the law, access to justice will now be a forlorn hope.

The House of Lords debate approving the increase may be read HERE.  The Statutory Instrument in question is The Civil Proceedings and Family Proceedings Fees (Amendment) Order 2015

An article published by Litigation Futures is well worth reading.   Lord Faulks QC, for the government, said that “It is also worth bearing in mind that litigation is very much an optional activity..." 

Lord Pannick QC poured scorn on the notion of litigation as an optional activity. “As the minister well knows from his experience as a very successful barrister, for many people – those suing for debts or to recover compensation for personal injury – litigation is often a necessity to keep your business alive or to maintain any quality of life…

“The fee remission provisions to which the minister, perhaps somewhat desperately, referred are not going to assist other than in exceptional cases.”

The power to charge court fees at above cost price is contained in section 180 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.  Lord Pannick asked: “But is it a fair, reasonable or proportionate exercise of that power? Plainly not. For litigants to have to pay such substantial sums in advance of bringing a legal claim will inevitably, in practice, deny access to the court for many traders, small businesses and people suing for personal injuries.

He said section 180 does not alter the Lord Chancellor’s legal duty under section 92(3) of the Courts Act 2003 to “have regard to the principle that access to the courts must not be denied”.  Lord Pannick argued: “The courts will interpret the powers conferred by section 180 as not intended to authorise regulations which impose an unreasonable or disproportionate barrier to access to the courts…

“If you wrap yourself in Magna Carta, as Mr Grayling sought to do last week at the Global Law Summit, you are inevitably and rightly going to invite scorn and ridicule if you then throw cold water over an important part of our legal heritage.”

A judicial review of the increases is likely.  Lord Pannick was optimistic that the courts will inevitably add this order to the long list of Mr Grayling’s regulations which have been declared unlawful in the past three years”.  For my part, I would not be so sure at this stage and I think it is a pity that Lord Pannick withdrew his "regret motion."

How the fee increases might affect individuals:

The Law Society gives some examples:

One concerned a pensioner with a claim against a financial adviser for the loss of his entire pension fund, for which the fee for applying to begin court proceedings will increase from £910 to £5,000.

Another case study found that a young girl with brain damage due to a failure by doctors to diagnose meningitis as a toddler will now require £10,000 to mount any fight for a secure financial settlement.

The increases were condemned by the judiciary and by professional bodies such as The Law Society and the Bar Council.

Last week, the Law Society issued a pre-action protocol letter as the first step to obtaining a judicial review of the increases. The letter has been signed by the Bar Council, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, the Commercial Bar Association, Action Against Medical Accidents and representatives of claimant and defendant lawyers.

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