Update on Court Fees – A two-tier legal system?

In March 2015, the Government launched the next step in their strategy to make the Court Service largely self-funding by increasing Court Fees for civil claims to recover money.

How much are Court Fees for civil claims?

The level of increase for civil claims was far above inflation, with some fees increasing by over 600%. For example, the cost to bring a claim of £200,000 increased from £1,315 to £10,000.

The wisdom of increasing these costs by such a large amount has been questioned, especially since in most cases the claim will be settled before trial.

This means that for a £200,000 claim, a court user could essentially be paying £10,000 for a small amount of administrative work. If the claim did proceed to trial, a second charge of £1,000 would also be added, bringing the total cost to £11,000.

This increase in costs is a continuation of a trend which started in 2013, when the treasury introduced fees for Employment Tribunal Claims.

The introduction of employment tribunal fees has started a ‘domino effect’ across the courts, where access to justice could be blocked by high fees.

What impact have the fees had?

Since the increase in 2013, Employment Tribunal claims have fallen, and this pattern has increased following this recent rise, with The Registry Trust showing a decrease of 19% in County Court Judgments (“CCJs”) in 2016.

These statistics support comments made by Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, who said earlier this year that the rise in fees will negatively impact small and medium businesses the most, with the dramatic decrease in CCJs lending credence to the thought that small businesses are struggling to pay the costs required to claim their money.

The privatisation of justice in the UK?

A reduction in access to justice is worrying, and we need to ask if “justice if you can afford it” should be acceptable in a democracy where the Rule of Law is paramount.

Ultimately, one of the aims of these steps is to move towards Alternative Dispute Resolution and mediation. Indeed, Lord Justice Briggs has stated his aim to make Alternative Dispute Resolution the cultural norm in the UK.

Alongside this, local County Courts have been closed before the online court system set to replace them is up and running. The online courts will deal with financial disputes of up to £25,000, with anything above this going through more traditional routes.

The question we need to ask is: are these movements putting us in danger of creating a two-tier legal system?