The Civil Justice Council (CJC) and Bar Council have condemned government plans for a second wave of court fee rises.
Among the proposed changes are an increase in general application fees from £50 to £100, for applications without notice or by consent, and from £155 to £255 for other contested applications.
The CJC said the latest plans would have a “particularly adverse effect on lower value claimants”. As an example, it said any applications for claims of £1,500 or less would cost more than the fee for commencing proceedings.
“An assumption is made on these increased costs being recoverable. That is not always possible and depends on the circumstances of the case and a defendant’s means.
“Another concern is that in some of the general applications the court acts as little more than a ‘rubber stamp’ and the size of this increase is excessive given the limited nature of the administrative task.
“A further general point that should be noted is that the costs of these increases will be passed on by claimants. Lenders and landlords in particular will review rates and rents and recover them from mortgage payers and tenants.”
The CJC went on: “It should be borne in mind that in a number of cases these applications arise from the behaviour of the other party (the respondent) or circumstances beyond a claimant’s own control – for example time extensions due to ill health or an expert witness failing to meet a court deadline.
“We fear that these measures may discourage co-operative behaviour by the parties – for example being required to pay a fee for an application for a consent order may discourage settlements.
“We would also recommend exempting small claims (those below £10,000) from these increases.”
The CJC added that it strongly supported the proposal to exempt three suggested areas (injunctions to protect against harassment and violence, applications on behalf of a child or vulnerable adult for payments out of court funds and specified insolvency proceedings) from the latest fee increases.
Alistair MacDonald QC, chairman of the Bar Council, commented: “Raising the fees for general applications by 65% and 100% means people will have to pay considerably greater sums just to keep their cases going.
“Alternatively, they will avoid issuing applications, which can lead to poor management of proceedings and an increased likelihood of satellite litigation, all of which wastes court time.
“We are not talking about multinational firms in multi-million pound law suits. General applications relate to things like chasing a cowboy builder, or challenging an application for possession of your home.
“Studies show that there is price elasticity around the use of courts, so the government knows this will stop some people from using the law to seek the redress they need.
“It is right that court users make a contribution, but wrong in principle that court fees should be used to generate more money than the courts cost to operate.”