The Government’s decision to increase some court fees by as much as 600% – raising up to £120 million for the Exchequer’s coffers – is tantamount to “selling justice”, warns leading south east law firm Furley Page.
Court fees went up in March despite opposition from groups representing small businesses and law firms who are worried that the fee hikes will discourage legitimate claims for personal injury, debt collection and many contract disputes.
The Ministry of Justice, which has been under pressure to cut costs by trimming legal aid and improving efficiency, insist that litigants should make a bigger contribution towards the running costs of the court system. Some 90% of claims, which are below the value of £10,000, would be unaffected by the fee increases, it claims.
But Furley Page Partner and personal injury specialist Neille Ryan is warning that the huge fee rises will undermine the legal system and block access to justice, and are tantamount to “selling justice” only to those who can afford it.
Neille explained that the court fees affect debts owed to small businesses as well as personal injury and clinical negligence claims. He said that higher court fees would:
Neille says: “With uncharacteristic haste and with depressing disregard for the impact of their actions, the Government has rushed through dramatic increases in court fees for claims to recover money, for example for personal injury, debt collection and contract disputes.
“Fees for claims below £10,000 are unaffected but where the sum claimed is £10,000 or more, the increases are dramatic, with some in excess of 600%. These fee hikes will discourage legitimate claims and deny justice to many in society.
“The Government wants things both ways – they describe personal injury claims seeking between £10,000 and £25,000 as ‘low value’ and have introduced a system which assumes that such claims are straightforward, yet they have increased the court fee for an injury claim worth, say, £24,000 from £395 to £1,080.
“The Government say it wants to make around £120 million from these changes, but the court system should not be looking to make a profit. It is an integral part of a civilised society that there is a civil justice system open to all on an equal footing, not just those who can afford to pay.
“Our civil court system is supposed to be a social function of the state. What next, criminal injuries compensation for profit? A profit-making armed forces compensation scheme? This decision is wrong and I urge the Government to reconsider.”
Furley Page is one of the top law firms in Kent and the South East of England and is listed in The Lawyer Top 200. Its expertise and client service is also acknowledged by respected guides The Legal 500 and Chambers UK.
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