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‘A serious point of principle’: Jackson reignites debate over increasing court fees

The debate amongst the profession over ever-increasing court fees continues to prove contentious, with Lord Justice Jackson being the latest to suggest the costs of pursuing civil cases is emerging as a real source of concern.

In his new book, entitled The Reform of Civil Litigation, Jackson, who established fundamental reforms of civil justice and costs in 2013, suggested policy makers will have to decide whether court fees should continue to rise at a rate far in excess of inflation.

The most recent round of increases in civil court fees, which saw fees jump by up to 620%, have been criticised for potentially putting access to justice out of the reach of many smaller businesses and less wealthy individuals.

Jackson said that ‘whilst it is not appropriate for a judge to “campaign” about court fees (or any other form of indirect taxation), there is a serious point of principle here.’

He further drove home the point that civil courts play a vital role in maintaining social order and that it would be wrong for the entire cost or most of the cost of the civil justice system to be shifted from taxpayers to litigants.

Jackson has previously called for fixed costs to apply to all claims valued up to £250,000, and argued that the increase in personal injury claims showed fixed costs have not reduced access to justice but only reduced the costs of litigation.

Lawyers have consistently argued that that the hikes in court fees have already deterred those with lower value claims from even bringing their cases to court.

Jackson said: ‘As a serving judge I have written the book in order to promote a proper understanding of the reforms and better litigation practice. I also hope the book can help encourage the proper implementation of those recommendations for reform which are as yet unimplemented or only partly implemented.’

Essex Court Chambers silk David Foxton QC tells Legal Business the profession also points out the difficulty posed by squeezed resources for the proper functioning of the courts, and says: ‘It’s difficult for the profession to help – people who start litigation pay very significant court fees. The government’s tax take on all of us who participate is huge. The block is the government recognising you need to invest some of that back. In Singapore they recognise the economics of that equation. They don’t here.’

Recently-appointed Lord Chancellor Liz Truss has also faced backlash from the profession just months into the role after unveiling proposals in September to extend the recoverable costs regime to ‘as many civil cases as possible’, and the roll-out of an online court system to ensure justice for all.

On technology based solutions to improve court efficiencies, Foxton adds: ‘People believe oral advocacy is the best way to discover the truth. Technology will never substitute human interaction on that level.’