At the end of last year, the MOJ published a consultation paper regarding proposals for reform of Court fees. While the proposals are wide-ranging and detailed, in essence the suggested reforms were aimed at creating a civil court system which was entirely self-funded, the idea being that it should be paid for entirely by its users, with no external government funding.
While this may seem a sensible, and indeed practical, concept, the fact remains that the civil court system is not a consumer service: it provides an essential facility which should be, and currently is, supported by the tax payer. The benefit of an effective, efficient and predictable civil court system is felt by the whole community and not only by those who for whatever reason (many unwillingly) are active users of it. A clear and predictable body of case law is of particular benefit to trade and commerce, as is a properly managed civil justice system which allows litigants to bring and pursue legitimate claims as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Broadly, the proposed reforms would result in civil court fees being increased: in some instances, such as with the suggestion that hearing fees be calculated on a per-day basis, rather than as a fixed fee of up to £1,090, fees could be increased exponentially.
Furthermore, although there is a deficit of £110-120 million in the civil and family courts, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service’s annual report for 2012/13 shows that much of that deficit arises from the family courts. It therefore seems inconsistent to increase fees in the civil courts but to standardise, or even reduce, fees in the family courts: users of the civil courts are effectively being asked to subsidise the family courts. There are also no proposals as yet for the reform of criminal court fees.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, there are no proposals to improve court service as a result of increased fees. As many users of the civil courts will well recognise, the court system is overburdened with often long delays for judge’s appointments and hearing dates. To therefore expect court users to pay more money for a sub-standard service, with no contribution whatever from tax payers in recognition of the essential service which is being provided, seems nonsensical.
As part of their role as committee members of the London Solicitors Litigation Association, Seamus Smyth prepared a response to the consultation paper on proposed court fee reforms, which can be viewed here.
Dispute Resolution Team