In an October post, we noted with dismay the Government’s plans to dramatically increase court issue fees for the second time in less than 12 months. Fortunately, an early Christmas present was delivered yesterday when the Government decided not to proceed with the planned increases after all – at least until such time as it has properly assessed the impact of previous fee increases on access to justice.
It is extremely heartening to see that the Government is willing to revisit its proposals in light of consultation responses from by court users and law firms, including our own. The cost of issuing a claim in the High Court is already very significant. Claimants issuing a money claim must pay an issue fee that broadly equates to 5% of the value of their claim, subject to a cap. Earlier this year, as part of a drive to make the courts more self-sustaining, the cap was increased by more than 500%, to £10,000. Just a few months later, a further consultation was published in which it was proposed that the cap be further increased to “at least” £20,000. The consultation suggested that this was the minimum proposed increase, and asked respondents to consider whether the cap should in fact be abandoned entirely.
As we noted in our previous post, and in our submissions to the Government, these fees are already problematic, if not fatal, for many potential users of the court service. One of the observations made by many is that the fees are disproportionately front-loaded; only a very small percentage of issued claims ever proceed to trial, and yet there is no realistic prospect of recovering an issue fee where a claim settles at an earlier stage.
If increases to court fees are an absolute necessity as a matter of Government policy, we have argued (as have many others) that it would be more reasonable for the increases to at least be evenly distributed across the fees payable at different stages of proceedings, instead of front-loading everything onto issue fees (payable at the very start of a claim). This is indeed the approach taken by the Government, who are going to follow through with plans to increase all civil proceedings fees by 10%, including enforcement and determination of costs proceedings.
The full Government consultation response is available here.