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Judges concerned by jump in legal fees

Judges concerned by jump in legal fees

Senior judges in England and Wales have written to the Ministry of Justice to voice “deep concerns” at large increases in court fees for all claims above £10,000, which they say will deter individuals from taking action.

The criticism comes just days after the government announced that any claim above the £10,000 threshold will be subject to fees worth 5% of the total claimed, up to a maximum of £10,000.

New fees 25 to 100 times greater than those charged in New York

The judges, led by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd and including master of the rolls Lord Dyson, president of the Queen’s Bench Division Lord Justice Leveson, president of the Family Division Sir James Munby, chancellor of the High Court Sir Terence Etherton and deputy head of civil justice Lord Justice Richards, pointed out that the new fees were 25 to 100 times greater than those charged in New York. Calculations published by the Civil Justice Council, (CJC) which brings together judges and court users, indicate that court fees on a claim worth £200,000 will go up by £8,725.

Under the proposals, litigants will also have to pay the fees in advance and, in cases where damages are not specified in advanced, including some personal injury claims, the maximum fee would automatically apply. The judges warn this could lead to a rise in litigants in person, with paid legal representation abandoned by the claimant in order that the fees may be paid.

Alistair MacDonald, QC, chairman of the Bar Council, recently decried the phenomenon, commenting that “the courts are clogged with litigants in person”, adding that they are having a “crippling effect” on justice. Legal aid cuts have led to a sharp rise in the number of people representing themselves in court without a lawyer; Court of Appeal Judge Lady Justice Black said that the courts just do not have the resources to assist unrepresented litigants with the extra burdens that they would not normally have to bear.

“No alternative” to increase

They also criticised the thinking behind the proposals, describing the research evidence-base as “far too insubstantial for reforms and increases of this level”. The plans are based on interviews with 31 civil court users. Only 12 of those interviewed were pursuing claims above the £10,000 threshold, leading to “some very sweeping and, in our view, unduly complacent assumptions”.

The CJC said that the 5% levy will inevitably act as “an effective barrier to entry to the justice system through pricing many court users out of the courts and thereby reducing access to justice”.

Justice minister Shailesh Vara said that, although “increasing court fees will never be welcome”, there was “no alternative” but to look to courts to raise the funds. She added she was certain that “those who choose to litigate in our courts will continue to recognise the outstanding qualities our legal services offer, and the excellent value for money they provide”. The revised fees are projected to raise up to £120m annually.

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