There was a 19% fall in the number of debt judgments against businesses in England and Wales during the first six months of 2016, which the Bar Council says is evidence of the negative impact of rising court fees.
The figures from the Registry Trust, the non-profit organisation which operates the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, said the fall continued a seven-year downward trend.
There were 42,091 county court judgments (CCJs) recorded against businesses in England and Wales during the first six months of 2016, with a total value of £149m, a decrease of 12%.
Both figures are the lowest since before the financial crisis; the average value rose by 8% to £3,550.
The Ministry of Justice increased court fees in 2015 for money claims to a blanket 5%, capped at £10,000.
Bar Council chairman Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC said: “The courts risk becoming out of bounds for many as the full impact of increased court fees bites.
“Small businesses seeking debt owed to them by customers, who are often other businesses they supply, can turn to CCJs as a last resort to get the money owed to them, but by increasing court fees the government has cut off those small businesses’ only real and last hope of getting that money, which is vital given how important cash-flow is to SMEs They are being priced out of court.
“In January 2015, when the plan to raise the fee for using the courts was first mooted, we warned that a court fee increase would hit small businesses. We take no pleasure in seeing that warning become a reality.”
Registry Trust chairman Malcolm Hurlston said: “Up to Brexit, businesses have been doing consistently well. This has been a long and cautious spell of recovery.”