The Government has just announced another raft of increases in court fees. The fee for issuing a divorce petition now goes from £410 to £550. The fee for issuing a possession claim in the County Court goes from £280 to £355. The application fee is for a contested application rises from £155 to £255. It was not long ago that it was actually free to issue a notice of application in the County Court.
There is a consultation for further fee rises that envisages the fee for issuing a money claim at 5% will rise to a maximum of £20,000. Personal injury and clinical negligence cases are exempted so, they remain capped at a maximum of fee of £10,000.
Even so £10,000 is an eye watering amount for the issue of court claim, for example for injuries caused at birth.
This is the second time in a year that court fees have gone up. On 9 March 2015, the Government imposed massive increases in court fees following an earlier consultation despite the majority of respondents being opposed. The fee for issuing a £200,000 claim rose overnight from £1100 to £10,000. The equivalent fee for issuing a claim in a New York court is $400 or £255.
The Government has already embarked on a controversial policy that court fees should cover the full cost of the court service. They have now gone further. So called ‘enhanced’ fees are intended to cover more than the full cost and will therefore subsidise government expenditure.
The rationale is that the Government is committed to reducing the national debt and achieving a balanced budget by 2019 and the Ministry of Justice must play its part. This is despite the fact that the national debt is at an affordable level and would naturally reduce as the economy prospers, as long as austerity measures are not applied. However the Government seems intent on dismantling the welfare state and public provision in the name of a balanced budget. Keynes and Beveridge must be turning in their graves.
Meanwhile, there is no doubt that many litigants will be deterred from issuing their claims with court fees at this astronomic level.
Civil justice is not a luxury but an essential feature of a civilised society. The decisions made in civil cases are for the benefit of the whole of society not just the individual litigants so it is fair and rational for the taxpayer to contribute to the cost of running the court system.
This is a view of most lawyers and the judiciary. It is only this Government which believes in turning the courts into a profit centre.