For anyone who is not a lawyer, the idea of going to court can be daunting. It has the feel of a different world where lawyers and judges wear a form of fancy dress that can be intimidating, buildings are often like something from Dickens and the language is completely alien. One of my earliest blogs concerned the time when I lost a client –
But with the help of lawyers many ordinary people have gritted their teeth, got on with it and achieved a just result. One thing which they did not need to worry about was cost. Legal Aid helped many but this has all but disappeared. For the last 15 years or so access to civil courts has been maintained by no win no fee arrangements. This is in the face of severe hostility from the media and politicians who created a new public enemy – The No Win No Fee Lawyer –
Despite these attacks, the rights of ordinary citizens have been secured.
The latest development could; however be the most damaging of all. This is the plan to increase court fees to a level beyond the means of all but the wealthiest. The government have announced that fees will increase by as much as 600%. In a case where damages are claimed in excess of £10,000 the fee will be 5% of the amount claimed with a cap of £10,000. So let’s be clear about this. That is £10k just to commence a claim. That is the amount that will have to be paid, up front, to start a case for those who are most seriously injured or disabled. Many victims like the one I mentioned the other day, could find themselves priced out of the market -
In most cases legal aid is no longer available. Solicitors’ firms have assisted clients by meeting the cost of the court fees until the case concludes. But firms will not be able to support many cases with fees in that league. It is a scandalous attack on the rights of ordinary people. There is no doubt that this will lead to a huge reduction in the number of cases that are pursued through the courts. A recent move to impose fees in Employment Tribunals has seen an 80% fall off.
The move has been severely criticised by the judiciary who have pointed out that fees will between 25 – 100 times more than those payable in New York!
So it is not surprising that the Law Society has begun moves to seek a Judicial Review of the decision. Interestingly the proposed action is supported by those who represent victims and those who represent insurers. Law Society President, Andrew Caplan says –
‘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.’
The government has done much to undermine access to justice in this country. But this promises to be the worst of all and should be opposed by anybody with a concern for justice – especially as we celebrate 800 years of the Magna Carta.