Three of the nation’s most senior civil judges appeared before the justice committee of the House of Commons yesterday and condemned government plans to raise court fees.
The government has hiked court fee increases in stages, with the latest round aimed to bring in an additional £48m in each year, on top of fee increases which came in last March expected to bring in £60m each year.
Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson – the third most senior member of the UK judiciary – expressed his deep concerns about the potential impact of the plans.
‘I have grave concerns,’ said Lord Dyson. ‘It’s not a principle that I like that users of the civil courts are subsidising the family courts and indeed even the criminal courts. It is something that I think is wrong in principle. But this is a policy decision and the government has decided to go down this route.
‘The government introduced these fee increases in stages – the first substantial increase in 2014, and then the so-called enhanced fees in March/April 2015. It’s these that have excited the most opposition certainly from myself. I’m afraid the risk of denying access to justice to a lot of people is so intense in those proposals.’
He added: ‘I’m particularly concerned not about the people at the very bottom end who are entitled to fee remission – although this level is set so low it only captures the really poor people – but ordinary people who are on modest incomes don’t qualify, and they are the sort of people who are inevitably deterred from litigating.’
Lord Dyson was joined by his colleagues Sir James Munby, who is the president of the family division, and Lord Justice Ryder who sits in the Court of Appeal and is senior president of tribunals (administrative courts).
However the government has said that the measures have increased the use of mediation and have not impeded access to justice.
Stephenson Harwood regulatory litigation head practice Tony Woodcock added: ‘It is absolutely clear the fees are the impediment for access to court. So either people give up their rights to justice; go into mediation; or become the litigant in person, which wastes court time. This is not just one judge sounding off, this is a college of senior judges and the nation’s head judge saying that this is not on.’