The Law Society has spoken out against Ministry of Justice (MoJ) plans to increase by inflation 133 court fees that have not changed since 2016, raising up to £17m as a result.
It said a blanket policy was not a reasonable approach.
The MoJ proposal is limited to fees which are “under-recovering” compared to the estimated cost of the service, and those fees which are enhanced, meaning they can be set above cost price.
Court fees generated a net £724m in 2019/20 to offset the £2bn running costs of HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) – the majority of fees have not been increased since 2016.
In a consultation issued in March, the MoJ said changes – which also included an increase in the thresholds of the ‘Help with Fees’ scheme – would raise an estimated £11-£17m.
In its response, the Law Society: “We do not agree that a blanket policy applied across all court jurisdictions dealing with different types of disputes involving different constituent parts of society is a reasonable way to increase court fees.
“To protect the public’s ability to access justice and ensure that the public can continue to use the court service, any proposed increase to fees should be considered on a jurisdiction by jurisdiction basis, informed both by evidence of the cost of the service provided and an evaluation of the impact on access to justice for those bringing cases.”
The society said it was particularly concerned at the proposal to increase fees for family proceedings.
“Given that over half of marriages end in divorce, the increase to court fees will have a significant impact on many, a considerable number of whom would not qualify for any fee remission or exemption…
“Court fees should not be set at a level where applicants must choose between obtaining legal advice to protect their rights or applying to courts to enforce those rights.”
The response also rejected the principle that inflation should be applied from when the fees were last changed in 2016.
“The court service has changed significantly since 2016,” it said. “Several court buildings have been sold in the last few years as a cost saving exercise and a number of court processes, including divorce, are moving online. Any fee increases should be based on and reflect these changes to the court system.”