Improving access to justice..

15th March 2016

...despite soaring court fees

Just a year ago, and following a review of court costs by the Ministry of Justice, we saw huge increases in fees for issuing court proceedings in the County Court and High Court. A year into the new regime and top UK judges and litigators alike roundly condemn the spectacular increases and some describe them as having established an unintended barrier to accessing justice.

In 2014 the court fee for issuing a money claim with a value of £30,000 was £610. Since March 2015 it is now 5% of the value of the claim i.e. £1,500 on a claim of £30,000. Inevitably, in view of the use of percentages to calculate issue fees, the changes are magnified as the value of the claim increases. For example, a claim issued in February 2015, with a value of £100,100 attracted a reasonable fee of £1,115, that same claim issued today will incur a gargantuan court issuing fee of £5,005.

The primary area of concern is that the increase to fees acts as a deterrent to pursuing cases through the courts and that inevitably this will discourage small businesses and individuals of modest means from seeking redress through the courts, where their other options have been exhausted.

It is interesting to note that the introduction of employment tribunal fees two years ago has led to a widely reported drop in the number of cases being pursued by employees. Sir Ernest Ryder, who is in charge of employment tribunals nationally, confirmed that the increase in employment tribunal fees had the effect of reducing the number of claims by 70% in just one year. Are we likely to see a similar drop in the number of claims in the civil courts?

The approach of increasing court fees has been described as an attempt to make the justice system self-financing. The Master of the Rolls, John Dyson, has warned of the dangers of high court fees and expressed deep concerns that the result is a denial of access to justice. Furthermore, it has been noted that these new ‘enhanced fees’ are designed to make a profit, and have the effect of charging claimants more than the administrative cost of the service they are using.

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Justice reiterates the growing concerns and agrees that “one of the biggest barriers to justice is costs” and that “action needs to be taken to reduce costs in civil justice.”

“It is not enough simply to say that the taxpayer must shoulder the burden. We need reform of our legal system to make access to justice easier for all”.

It’s not all doom and gloom. A positive consequence of the increase to court fees is the further development and increased use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to resolve contentious matters. At Rohan Solicitors we are seeing more and more disputes being resolved by alternative means such as mediation and without prejudice negotiations. Utilising such methods has the effect of reducing client costs, limiting the animosity between the parties and significantly shortening the time it takes to end disputes. This is hugely beneficial to warring parties as it enables them to move on quickly from disputes and focus on more productive pursuits, which for our commercial clients is increasing their profit.

We recognise the importance of ADR particularly in the context of the increases to court fees and Martyn Gooch, Head of our Litigation department, can advise on all aspects of dispute resolution and is willing and able to act for those that unfortunately become embroiled in court proceedings. For further information or an informal chat with Martyn please call 01444 450901.