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Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Fees go up and the Service comes down! - a rant

I received a letter from the HMCTS the other day. It gave very helpful advice about a further impending rise in court fees. The fee for a General application will soon go up from £155 to £255 – 60%. The fee for a Consent Order will go from £50 to £100 – 100%. The letter was unable to say when these eye watering increases will happen – ‘further information about the date when these increases will take effect will be provided..’ 

So presumably every law firm in the country will soon get a second letter!

In 2015 we saw fees for Issuing Proceedings rise, in some cases, by 600%.

In his speech about fixed fees on  28th January, Jackson LJ talked of  ‘a justice system which is exorbitantly expensive’ and said – ‘High litigation costs inhibit access to justice’ and ‘If costs prevent access to justice this undermines the rule of law.’ It is hard to disagree with those comments. It is a shame that the MOJ are not listening. Such huge and apparently random increases in fees will inevitably impact on Access to Justice. Some claimants can apply for exemption in fees but many thousands are not eligible.

But there is another problem. The quality of the service from the courts seems to decline in direct proportion to the levels of increase.

Just this week I did a CMC by telephone. After a long wait the District Judge was very apologetic. He had no file. He had no idea what the case was about and asked us to explain. This was a hearing that was listed months ago. Imagine the Mitchell/Denton implications if I had announced that I couldn’t find my file and didn’t know anything about the case.

Earlier this year I did a CCMC. The court in question sent out meticulous directions about what had to be in the bundle for the hearing. Many of the documents were already on the court file. So I spent several hours doing work once done by the court office. The Directions and budgets were eventually agreed but the court in question refused to allow it to be dealt with by telephone. So it was a choice between briefing counsel and driving 120 miles for a hearing that lasted 10 minutes. 

In another case one of my colleagues had a Clinical Negligence case listed for a CCMC in a London  County Court. It was due to be heard in January this year. It was vacated because the judge was ill. It has been relisted for July!

I suspect that since the Jackson reforms were introduced the cost of Civil Litigation has gone up not down – even if we disregard the satellite litigation.

I suspect that fixed fees for most litigation are inevitable. And firms who work quickly and efficiently should have no fears. But they will not reduce the overall costs of litigation whilst the government is intent on milking it for all it is worth.

1 comment:

  1. Which idiot decided that taking 28 "working days" for a county court to process a request for copy of decree absolute at a total fee of £65 (including search at central registry first) no less is anything like an acceptable service standard for what amounts to a paying customer ?.