City lawyers are emphasising the importance of access to justice following the government’s announcement Lord Justice Jackson is to head up a new review of fixed recoverable costs early next year.
Jackson, who was appointed to the role on Friday (11 November), has previously called for fixed costs to apply to all claims valued up to £250,000 and said that increases in personal injury claims showed fixed costs have not reduced access to justice. Currently fixed costs only apply to personal injury claims of up to £25,000.
Additionally, recent rounds of civil court fee increases have seen some fees jump by 620% and have been criticised for putting access to justice at risk.
Jackson’s review comes as part of a report into transforming the court and tribunals system, launched by the Lord Chancellor Elizabeth Truss and Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas in September.
The review aims to ‘look at options to extend fixed recoverable costs must more widely, so the costs of going to court will be clearer and more appropriate’. It will examine extending the present fixed recoverable costs regime to make costs more transparent and consider what types of litigation should see costs extended.
Jackson said: ‘Although momentum is heavily for reform, the review will provide ample opportunity for comments and submissions on the form and scope that reform should take.’
He added: ‘Serious consideration should be given to extending fixed recoverable costs to the lower reaches of the multi-track after the other reforms are bedded in.’
Members of the profession have reacted cautiously to the review. Law Society president Robert Bourns said: ‘We do not oppose the principle of fixed costs for straightforward, low value claims as they can provide some certainty for both sides in litigation and avoid protracted disputes about the level of costs.’
He added: ‘But we have previously expressed concern at suggestions that costs should be fixed for all claims up to £250,000 – a tenfold increase on the current limit for many claims subject to a fixed cost regime. Cases at this level of compensation include situations where people have been very seriously harmed and where the application of fixed costs would be totally inappropriate.
‘Such a one size fits all approach for all cases, regardless of complexity, will simply make many cases economically unviable, undermining the principle of justice delivering fairness for all.’
Association of Costs Lawyers chair Iain Stark, a partner at Weightmans, said: ‘Whilst recognising the desire for wholesale reform, thereby providing certainty in the legal costs arena, this must be tempered by accepting that access to justice must be the bedrock of any consultation.’
Fieldfisher head of serious injury Jill Greenfield told Legal Business: ‘It is potentially socially divisive. It’s heavy handed and we should genuinely worry about its effect on those on lower incomes. We already have the £10,000 court fee that has been brought in. If you are a low earner you are much more likely to be affected. There is this idea that £250,000 is not a big claim. It may not be to the people making these decisions. This elitist, high handed approach is simply not in touch with the real hardships that people face following injuries; nor how hard insurers fight these cases.’
City partners have previously criticised calls to increase fixed costs for claims of up to £250,000, particularly in complex litigation.
Submissions to the review are due by 16 January 2017, with Jackson set to complete his review by 31 July.