The government’s enthusiasm for making public spending savings has resulted in an accusation from the Law Society, the body representing solicitors, that proposed increases in some court fees of up to 600% amount to ‘selling justice’.
The proposals from the Ministry of Justice, reports CCR Magazine, mean that fees for claims from £1 to £9,999 are unchanged; from £10,000 to £199,999 are 5% of the claim; and are fixed at £10,000 for claims above £200,000. There would also be a 10% discount on claims from £10,000 to £99,999 filed electronically.
But the Law Society led a barrage of criticism that the proposals were against the principle of Magna Carta and that the government has no power to raise fees for the reason it gave in a consultation, to make departmental savings.
The society took the first step towards legal action to thwart the increases by issuing a pre-action protocol letter for judicial review.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen, told CCR Magazine: ‘The government’s hikes will price the public out of the courts and leave small businesses saddled with debts they are due but cannot afford to recover.’
That must clearly be of concern to SJ Collections, which acts for many small businesses trying to recover sums owed.
A campaign against the increases in fees has won promises from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats to review the proposals if they are in government after the general election this week. And officials were instructed to keep the situation under review shortly before parliament was dissolved for the election.
Now the prospect of legal action has receded after the Law Society received legal advice from counsel.
In a statement it said: ‘We remain profoundly opposed to these court fee increases and whatever the formation of the next government, we will be pressing for a review. While we will not be pursuing a judicial review of the increases, we will continue to closely monitor their impact on people and businesses endeavouring to seek redress through the civil courts. We will be gathering examples and case studies which demonstrate how access to justice is being eroded for ordinary people and small businesses.’
Writing in the Law Society Gazette to explain the decision, Caplen said: ‘Our view was – and is – that the increases amounted to a ‘flat tax’, going far beyond recovering the true costs of administering claims through the courts.’
But he added: ‘We recently received advice from our counsel. Having carefully considered that advice we have decided not to take the next step of seeking a judicial review.’
Stephen Kiely, the editor of CCR magazine, writes in an editorial: ‘This is a hugely important issue, which could potentially undermine one of the bedrocks of our industry and of our society, and so the time really is now to state, in the most forthright terms, that the government should think again.’
We agree and will watch developments with interest after the election result, whatever that may be.