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Review recommended: Justice Committee latest to critique court fee hike

The House of Commons Justice Select Committee has come out against increases in court and tribunal fees in a report to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), recommending last year’s increase in commercial court fees be reviewed.

Amid a review of divorce petition fees and employment tribunal costs, a committee has recommended the April 2015 raise on court fees be reviewed. The raise had applied to financial claims of more than £10,000 and was set at 5% of the value of the claim.

At the time of the hike, a Ministry of Justice survey showed 61% of respondents believed the court fee hike would have a negative impact on the UK’s competitiveness in commercial disputes.

The committee report, released this week, recommends the government should review the impact of the April 2015 increase in fees for money claims on the international competitiveness of London as a litigation centre, and should not resurrect its proposal to double the £10,000 cap or remove it altogether, unless such a review has been undertaken. The report suggests that a review take place in 2-3 years so the impact of the charge can be assessed.

Quinn Emmanuel Urquhart & Sullivan partner Ted Greeno told Legal Business: ‘This is a massive issue for the rule of law in this country. The problem lies in the government’s policy that court users alone should fund the civil justice system.

‘This needs to be fundamentally reconsidered. The court system is there to maintain the rule of law for everyone and so should be paid for, in large part, out of general taxation.’

Greeno (pictured) added the changes ‘did not take into account the effect of higher fees on the wider economy’. He said: ‘It’s very bad in particular for small and medium sized enterprises who can find it a lot more difficult to get paid, now they have to incur what can be a very large sum for them up front to issues a claim form.’

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said justice was becoming increasingly out of reach for ordinary people, serving to create a ‘justice gap in our two-tier system’.

The Law Society commended the report by the Justice Select Committee and called on the government to act, calling employment and immigration tribunal fees ‘punitive’.

Bar Council chair Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC called the case for the most recent increases in fees ‘flimsy’. Doerries said: ‘Our courts and justice system are recognised overseas as the world’s best. That reputation is being eroded by these increases. How can we maintain a world-leading justice system if few people can use it?’

Justice Secretary Michael Gove previously backpedalled in December 2015 over controversial criminal courts charges, another money raising initiative to reduce the cost of justice to the public purse.