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Showing its teeth: Law Society invokes Magna Carta as it launches legal action against court fees’ ‘flat tax’

The Law Society is challenging the government’s decision to increase certain court fees by over 600% and has issued a pre-action protocol letter for judicial review saying the move would be tantamount to ‘selling justice’.

Announced this morning (23 February), the Law Society has listed multiple grounds to challenge the fee increase. Key points include an increase being contrary to the Magna Carta principles of not ‘selling justice’; the government lacking the power to raise fees for the purposes it stated in its consultation – to make ‘departmental savings’; proceeding without justifying evidence; and failing to allow representations on enhanced fees in combination with amendments to the remissions scheme.

Other grounds listed includes consultees not being told how much money needed to be raised from enhanced fees or why, constituting ‘a breach of the government’s own consultation principles’ that state sufficient response must be given for any proposal to permit intelligent consideration and response. Lastly the regulatory body stated that when the government tabled its second round of proposals on higher fees for possession claims and general civil applications, ‘it had already made up its mind about certain options, which is unfair’.

The Society, which is being represented by Kingsley Napley, has now requested the government provide information on how much money it proposes to raise through enhanced fees and outline what the money will be spent on. It has further requested an explanation over how modernisation of the court services will appear in the government’s accounts.

The potential implications of the enhanced court fees mean people may be put off going to court when they have genuine claims, and provide an incentive for large companies to deny liability while knowing that injured parties would not be in a position to fund expensive court fees. The Law Society held its own consultation during late January and early February, and received responses from 181 members, which estimated that the total value of work in the affected areas could decrease by between 27-36% as a result of the fee increases. Further concerns included the value of work bought by individuals falling by 30-40%, and the value of work from small and medium-sized companies potentially falling by 42-55%.

Additional signatories to the pre-action protocol letter includes the Bar Council, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL), Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS), Chancery Bar Association, Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) and the Commercial Bar Association (COMBAR).

Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: ‘The government’s policy on “enhanced court fees” amounts to a flat tax on those seeking justice. The government’s hikes – due to come in from April – will price the public out of the courts and leave small businesses saddled with debts they are due but unable to afford to recover. State provision for people to redress wrongs through the courts is the hallmark of a civilised society.’

In December the Lord Chief Justice also expressed concern to the proposed changes with ‘deep concerns’ in a letter addressed to the Ministry of Justice, and said ‘increases on this scale will have a detrimental impact on a number of court users, affecting individuals and businesses alike. There is likely to be a disproportionately adverse impact on small and medium enterprises and litigants in person.’