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Thursday, 3 April 2014

Justice at a price? What price?

On 22nd April we are to see a massive increase in fees payable by the parties in civil litigation cases. The levels of the increases are unprecedented and demonstrate the government’s contempt for civil justice.

So to commence a claim for damages between £5,000 and £15,000 the fee is £445, compared to the present fee of £245. In bigger cases the fees rise on a scale up to an eye watering £1920. The thinking behind the rise is to make the justice system become a profitable venture which is ultimately free from public finding. Justifying the rises, Shailesh Vara said –

“I am satisfied that we must press ahead. No one could seriously argue that it is right for the taxpayer to continue to subsidise those who use the courts, by underwriting, year after year, unplanned deficits in court income. We need to get on top of this problem once and for all.”

This is a staggering dismissal of the reasons we have a justice system. In any civilised society citizens should have equal access to justice regardless of whether they are wealthy. Fees of this nature will deter litigants. I hear some say that the fees will be paid up front by the lawyers so there is no real cost to the ordinary person. Lawyers will indeed help litigants but in the face of massive cuts over the last year or so most firms do not have the resources to bank roll fees like these. Clients can take out loan agreements and may recover the interest if they win. But why should they go into debt just to get access to the courts?

The reality is that we will see a big drop in the numbers of those who have funds to litigate. We have already seen this happen in Employment Tribunals. In 2013 fees were introduced for the first time, meaning that it can cost over £1,000 to take a claim to a hearing. The result has been a staggering 79% drop in the numbers of claims –

Most of those will be genuine victims who simply cannot afford justice.

We have also seen the very frightening spectre of similar fees for the poor and disabled who wish to appeal to Benefit Tribunals – most of which succeed –

We have a government which sees the price of justice but which has lost all sight of its value.

Justice is not commodity it is a right.

We’re coming to that time when various political parties come out with promises, in order to secure our votes. 

Will we see promises to reverse these and other attacks on the rights of ordinary people?

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