Significant and wide-ranging increases in court fees announced by the government yesterday amount to a further assault on access to justice for individuals and small businesses. Read the Law Society’s full response below.

The government is proposing further increases in court fees, before there has been any opportunity to assess the impact of the fee increases announced in March.

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said:

‘The government introduced dramatic hikes to court fees just months ago. These latest proposals will increase fees by more than 1,000 per cent for claims of £200,000 or more. They will deny individuals and small businesses access to justice, crippling anyone trying to recover monies owed to them.

‘All civil cases, from divorce to landlords trying to get their property back, are affected by these punitive increases which are tantamount to treating justice like a commodity. Justice will be out of reach for many ordinary people. This will only serve to widen the access to justice gap in our two tier justice system.

‘The civil courts are the backbone of a fair society and a prosperous economy. I urge the government to look at the wider impact of the Ministry of Justice’s increased fees.’

The maximum court fee payable by a claimant was increased to £10,000 in March this year - an increase of nearly 600 per cent for claims of £200,000. The government is now proposing that this fee be doubled, to ‘at least’ £20,000, which would represent an increase of over 1,000 per cent in under six months. The government will profit from those who can afford to go to court for these cases as the fees charged will far outstrip the cost to the justice system.

Jonathan Smithers commented on the latest proposal:

‘In such a short space of time it is impossible to assess the impact of the first fee increases on access to justice, let alone predict what impact a further increase might have.’

What’s changed?

The fee changes include:

  • blanket increase in the cost of civil court cases, from divorce to debt recovery or will disputes;
  • the cost of claiming compensation;
  • the cost of divorce; and
  • the cost of reclaiming your property.

Government ignores consultation respondents

When the Law Society canvassed solicitors earlier this year they said higher court fees will:

  • Put people off going to court when they have genuine claims. Those out of work due to injury caused by negligence would not risk losing what little money they had left on court fees, even if they had a strong claim.
  • Provide an incentive for large companies to deny liability, knowing that the injured parties would not be in a position to fund expensive court fees. Under the current fees, large companies and insurers often settle out of court when they are clearly liable.
  • Lead to small business insolvency. Unpaid invoices of tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds mean cash flow and overdrafts are already stretched. For some companies, insolvency will be the only option.

Jonathan Smithers further commented:

‘The court fee increases were opposed by 90% of respondents to the government consultation that preceded yesterday’s announcement, making a mockery of the consultation process.

‘Solicitors, who support people through court cases that have profound effects on their lives, are absolutely clear that court fee increases 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.

‘The government said it would review the impact of the fee increases introduced in March, but in the short time that has passed the effect cannot be adequately assessed. The Law Society will be consulting its members in order to assess the impact of these fees on ordinary people and small businesses.’