The government has refused to bow to sustained criticism of its plans for steep court fee increases and announced that they are to go ahead – but it has yet to decide on whether it will introduce ‘enhanced’ fees that are above cost price.
Issuing its response to the highly contentious consultation on court fees – which attracted 162 submissions – the Ministry of Justice acknowledged that many did not agree with the proposals, which it estimated will generate an additional £105m in fee income a year.
But minister Shailesh Vara said: “I am satisfied that we must press ahead. No one could seriously argue that it is right for the taxpayer to continue to subsidise those who use the courts, by underwriting, year after year, unplanned deficits in court income. We need to get on top of this problem once and for all.”
Mr Vara indicated that enhanced fees will go ahead, saying that “we will be bringing forward our plans for reform in due course”.
To support its decision – and in the face of criticism of the lack of evidence underpinning the proposals – the government published new research conducted by IPSOS Mori, involving 54 qualitative interviews with a range of civil claimants and family applicants.
This said that “overall, most participants reported that court fees were affordable and did not influence their decision to start court proceedings. Many participants felt they would not have been deterred from starting court proceedings if court fees had been higher”.
However, some civil claimants making specified money claims reported that they would weigh up whether the likely cost of court proceedings would be worthwhile against the value of the claim they were hoping to recover.
Also, the study did not cover those who resolved disputes using alternative means, or who had been deterred from bringing their case to court for any reason.
There have been a handful of amendments to the original proposals. Noting the concerns expressed about the proposed £680 for a judicial review hearing or oral renewal, it will instead charge £350 for an oral renewal, with a further £350 charged if permission is granted and the case proceeds to a hearing. (These figures, like others in the consultation, have been uprated to 2013/14 prices.)
“This will mean that those found to have an arguable case will continue to pay no more than had permission been granted in the first instance, while lowering the cost of an oral renewal application.”
The changes will come into force on 22 April. For the full list of new fees, see from page 41 of the consultation response here.