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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The scandalous increase in court fees (2)

I have already mentioned the proposed increases in court fees which are due to be introduced from April 2015. This will have such a devastating impact on Access to Justice that it merits some further comment.

Firstly it is important that we all understand the eye watering sums involved. A person who is severely disabled and dependent on carers for life will require the highest level of damages. At the moment the fee payable to the court to start a claim is £1920. Under the new rules it will £10,000. Forget any talk about percentages. That is simply scandalous.

The government is intent on pressing on with the move in the absence of any support at all. Indeed the response has been universally hostile.

The Civil Justice Council (CJC), a body which exists to advise the Lord Chancellor on Civil Justice and Procedure has talked about the risk that the increase will –

‘…act as an effective barrier to entry to the justice system through pricing many court users out of the courts and thereby reducing access to justice for those litigants for whom court fees form a significant cost element of the overall process…’

The most senior judges in the land wrote to the Ministry of Justice in December 2014. They adopted the concerns of the Civil Justice Council and went on to say –

‘In addition, the draft impact assessment for these proposals makes some very sweeping and, in our view, unduly complacent assumptions about the likely effect on the volume of court claims issued and access to justice of the proposed fee increases….’

The President of the Law Society has called the increases a flat tax on justice. Who would disagree with Andrew Caplan’s statement? –

“State provision for people to redress wrongs through the courts is the hallmark of a civilised society.”

The Law Society is leading the judicial review action against the rises.

One sector which has benefited hugely from this government attacks on justice has been the insurance industry. They have found a real friend in ministers who have given them virtually everything they have asked for in terms of restricting the ability of victims to bring damages claims. But those lawyers who represent insurers have joined in the chorus of opposition. The Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL) have joined in the Law Society’s action. Their President, Nick Parsons signed a letter to the Times which talked about ‘disaster for access to justice’.

Nobody is telling ministers that this is a good idea. According to the CJC the consultation process comprised 17 telephone conversations.

They are simply not listening. They cannot possibly say that they do not understand. So the conclusion must be that they do not care. This is straight from the Homer Simpson school of politics..

They have failed to consider the damage which this could cause the NHS. Most Medical Negligence cases come into the highest bracket and so many cases will attract the £10,000 fee. Victims will struggle to pay it. But in many cases the bill will ultimately fall to be met by the NHS following a successful claim. So the government is imposing a 600% surcharge on itself for negligence. The same goes for insurers, which presumably explains their concern.

The one message that they will hear loud and clear is via the ballot box in May.

Counting the days …….

PS Since I posted this the MOJ have rushed through the Statutory Instrument enabling the increases to take effect. This means that they could be with us as soon as 9th March 2015. This is no time at all for lawyers, on both sides, to consider how they can best advise clients. Hopefully the Law Society's Judicial Review will be heard soon.

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