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Friday, 28 October 2016

Court Fees (2) - what are we getting for the pain?

My last post looked at the effect of high court fees in cases where time limits are a problem. From comments received the follow up question is – what are court users getting for their money?

I recently appeared at a Costs and Case Management Conference. For various reasons it was the most contested CCMC that I have done since costs budgeting was introduced. The other side were contesting our budget, directions, location of trial and almost everything else imaginable. There was never any doubt that we were going to use the full 90 minutes for which the case was listed. As we trooped in before the District Judge we were told that the court’s file had been lost and had only turned up 5 minutes before we went in. Of all the cases for this to happen!

As it was, the judge, who was very apologetic, managed to get through the hearing with pragmatic help from both sides – even though we still had our arguments. But this was a difficult enough case without us having to be administrators as well as advocates.

This is just one example of the problems that litigators, and judges, have experienced since recent cuts in funding and massive increases in court fees. Earlier this year I covered a telephone hearing where the poor judge had no file at all. The parties had to explain everything which doubled the length of the hearing. In another case we were asked by the Court to reconstitute a file as it had been lost. Interestingly the correspondence was from a designated ‘Missings Team’ .  So the problem is far from unique.

I have previously mentioned a case where a hearing was adjourned in January 2016 as the judge was unwell and was not relisted until July!

The list could go on. The administration of our civil courts is shambolic.

Lord Justice Gross, speaking at a conference in the Caribbean last month said –

But, more importantly, the reform programme is something we should be doing anyway: using the resources available to us, strategically and imaginatively, with a view to devising a user-oriented, modernised and improved justice system, while preserving the brand of trust, confidence, integrity and expertise it has historically enjoyed and continues to enjoy. The stakes are high. There is no Plan B.’

Most practitioners experience a justice system which is a long way short of one which is ‘user-oriented, modernised and improved’.

This may be an ambition or a hope but it is a million miles from reality.

I normally represent victims of accidents or medical blunders. It is inevitable therefore that this blog usually sees things from their perspective. But the outrageous hike in court fees in 2015 – up to 600% in some cases, affects all of those who use the courts.  The Claimant has to pay the fees up front. But in successful cases the Defendant will have to cough up. Even Mr Mitchell was entitled to his court fees!

What makes things worse is that the quality of service has declined in direct proportion to the increase in fees.

We have a civil justice system that is, or has been, the envy of the world. How long will this last if the current chaos is allowed to continue… 

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