Less than four months after the last round of fee increases for civil claims (see post), the government has today opened a consultation on further significant increases which, if implemented, would (at least) double the cost of issuing money claims above £400,000, ie from £10,000 to at least £20,000.

In March this year, in the face of strong objections from court users, the government introduced new percentage-based fees to issue money claims over £10,000. These new fees are calculated as 5% of the claim value, subject to a cap of £10,000. The fees are referred to by the government as “enhanced fees”, since they are not just aimed at recovering the costs of the services to which they relate, but in fact aim to recover more than the cost of those services, thereby subsidising other aspects of the civil court system.

The consultation issued today outlines a planned increase in the £10,000 cap to “at least £20,000″. The government defends the increase by pointing out that of 1.2 million money claims issued each year, only 5,000 (or 0.4%) will be affected. The consultation adds: “Many of the claims brought for higher values will involve large multi-national organisations or wealthy individuals, and we believe it is right to ask them to contribute more.”

The previous increases had been widely criticised, on the basis of their potential impact on access to justice as well as potential damage to London’s international standing as a centre for dispute resolution. At the time, we expressed concerns that the increases could be the thin end of the wedge. Today’s consultation proves those concerns well-founded.

The timing of the consultation also gives rise to questions, given that it will take place over the summer holiday period, closing on 15 September. Further, it comes just one day after the House of Commons Justice Committee announced an inquiry into the effects of court and tribunal fees, including the regime of enhanced fees for civil proceedings. The inquiry asks for views on various issues including how the increased court fees have affected access to justice, and how they have affected the competitiveness of the legal services market in England and Wales in an international context. The deadline for written submissions to the inquiry is 30 September.