Legal action started over government’s ‘flat tax’ on court fees
The Law Society is amongst a number of other signatories to a pre-action protocol letter for judicial review to challenge the government’s decision to increase some court fees by over 600 per cent.
The letter, which is signed by The Bar Council, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL), Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS), Chancery Bar Association, Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) and the Commercial Bar Association (COMBAR), challenges the government on the grounds that:
- The proposals would be tantamount to ‘selling justice’ contrary to the principles of Magna Carta.
- The government does not have the power to raise fees for the purposes it has stated in the consultation – to make ‘departmental savings’.
- The government is proceeding without evidence to justify the increases, which are effectively a tax.
- Consultees were not told how much money needed to be raised from enhanced fees or why – this is a breach of the Government’s own consultation principles, which state that sufficient reasons must be given for any proposal to permit intelligent consideration and response.
- When the government tabled its second round of proposals on higher fees for possession claims and general civil applications, it had already made up its mind about certain options, which is unfair.
- The government failed to allow representations on enhanced fees in combination with amendments to the remissions scheme.
The Society has asked the government to provide information on how much money it proposes to raise through enhanced fees and what it will spend the money on. It has also asked the government to explain how modernisation of the court services will appear in the government’s accounts.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen said:
‘The government’s policy on ‘enhanced court fees’ amounts to a flat tax on those seeking justice.
‘The government’s hikes – due to come in from April – will price the public out of the courts and leave small businesses saddled with debts they are due but unable to afford to recover.
‘State provision for people to redress wrongs through the courts is the hallmark of a civilised society.’
Data from nearly 200 solicitors found that the total value of cases brought by individuals would likely fall by around one-third (35 per cent) under higher court fees. For small- and medium-sized companies it would halve (a 49 per cent decrease). This suggests that increased court fees could have a significant impact on access to justice for both individuals and businesses, as fewer could afford to pay the higher rates.