Civil court fees are set to increase in April following the Government’s response to a Ministry of Justice consultation. Court of Appeal fees will not change for the time being but are set to change later on.
The consultation ‘Court Fees: Proposals for reform’ ran from 3 December 2013 until 21 January 2014. The Government’s response was published on 1 April 2014.
Following the response, court fees will rise from the 22 April 2014 when the Government introduces secondary legislation. The rises are 2.7% higher than anticipated by the original consultation to keep them in line with CPI.
The changes are not without controversy as many observers believe that the cost of the civil justice system should be borne by the state rather than litigants to preserve access to justice.
What was the Consultation on Court Fees?
The consultation was in two parts, the first, ‘Cost recovery’ made proposals for the recovery of nearly the full cost of the civil court system through fees. This would effectively transfer a greater proportion of the cost to litigants while alleviating the cost placed on the taxpayer. Part two, ‘Enhanced charging’, went even further by proposing to set some fees above cost to better reflect the value of those proceedings to the court user.
The broad thrust of the consultation proposals was that users of the civil court system would, in future, be expected to meet the cost of the court service where they could afford it. Where there was greater value for the user in certain types of proceeding, it suggested that users might even contribute more than the cost, which is likely to prove particularly controversial.
The consultation maintained that fee remissions (fee waivers) would continue for those who qualify so that access to justice is not denied.
Why are Reforms to the Court Fee System Needed?
The Government’s response to the consultation makes the underlying motivation for the proposals clear. Its top priority has been to reduce the fiscal deficit, to help the economy recover and set the UK on course for growth. Under the terms of its Spending Review settlement, the Ministry of Justice is required to reduce its annual spending by over £2.5 billion by 2014/15.
Users of the court system have been required to pay fees to use the system for many years. More recently the emphasis has been on recovering the full costs of the system less the cost of the remissions system but the courts have not been achieving this. In 2012/13 the Ministry of Justice had a deficit of £125m or 20% of the total costs.
The immediate economic case for increasing court fees is clear, the longer term effects and the social benefits of doing so are less so. Maintaining the reputation of the English jurisdiction as a leading forum for commercial disputes and maintaining access to justice for UK citizens are important considerations even if the short-term economics are not as apparent.
For those likely to be affected by these changes, a full list of the new fees is available and your solicitor will be able to advise you of any additional costs.