Despite fierce accusations from within the senior echelons of the legal profession that the Government has failed to comprehend the Courts’ standing as an essential institution of the State, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) this week announced it will push ahead with the first stage of its proposals to overhaul court fees in civil claims.taking effect from 22 April.
A graduated fee will be applied to compensation claims of £5,000 upwards, with the fee capped at £1,920 for claims in excess of £300,000. Smaller claims will face smaller or no charges.
A standard fee of £280 will be applied to non-money civil cases, such as applying for a declaration of insolvency or repossession of property, instead of the current mixture of fees.
Further changes include scrapping the £75 application fee for domestic violence injunctions.
However, the MoJ is still considering its most controversial proposals; the levying of fees on commercial cases, calculated as a percentage of the amount in dispute, after the paper launching the consultation claimed: ‘…the government believes that it is preferable that those who can afford to pay should contribute more to the costs of the courts, so that access to justice is preferred and the cost to the taxpayer is reduced.’
Speaking to Legal Business about the latest developments, veteran disputes partner Ted Greeno, formerly at Herbert Smith Freehills and now at Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan, said: ‘It seems civil justice is not regarded as very important by successive governments compared to other priorities for spending. That’s a mistake. Its importance is enormous to any civilised society. We’ve had such a good system for so long in this country that successive governments have taken it for granted.
‘You could say why don’t the political parties and their donors pay for the running of parliament? It’s an institution of the state. It’s not supposed to be self-financing, it’s essential to the running of society and it’s there for the benefit of all.’
The proposals are part of a series of steps being taken by the MoJ to reduce its annual spend by over £2.5bn by 2014/15 and announcing the latest changes, courts minister Shailesh Vara said: ‘For many years, the civil court system has operated under the principle that those who use the courts should pay the full cost of the service they receive. However, this has not yet been achieved in practice, and, last year, the deficit was more than £100m. At a time when we have made deficit reduction our top priority, the Government does not believe that the courts can be immune from the tough decisions we have had to take in order to bring public spending in line with what we can afford.’