“To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice” – Magna Carta, Clause 40
Last month saw the celebration of 800 years since the sealing of the Magna Carta, which enshrined the principle of access for justice for all.
A few weeks later enhanced court fees have been brought in for monetary claims in order to raise additional income of £120 million for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
Lord Faulks, the justice minister, defined “enhanced fees”, as “fees that are set above the costs of the proceedings to which they relate”.
The 'profit' raised in this way is to be used by the MoJ as a contribution to the departmental savings required from 2015/16. In effect, that means access to justice is being sold, and at what price?
By way of the Civil Proceedings and Family Proceedings Fees (Amendment) Order 2015 which came into force on Monday, court fees for claims over £10,000 have been increased to 5% of the value of the claim, capped at £10,000 for claims of £200,000 and over.
That means that if you had a claim valued at £190,000 last week the court fee would have been £1,315. This week the court fee will be £9,500, an astonishing increase of 622%.
These ‘enhanced’ court fees will act as a barrier to many individuals using the civil justice system They effectively prohibit those who are unable to afford the new fees from seeking justice and financial redress for their injuries and losses. Those people will be 'refused right and justice.'
The Civil Justice Council and the Senior Judiciary have expressed deep concerns at the MoJ’s proposals. The Senior Judiciary expressed their concerns at the “very sweeping and in our view, unduly complacent assumptions about the likely effect on the volume of court claims issued and access to justice of the proposed fee increases.”
The Civil Justice Council spoke of their “grave concern that the Ministry is contemplating such a significant reform, and one that carries with it potentially far-reaching and damaging consequences for access to justice, on such a poor evidence-base.”
The MoJ response to the consultation (published on Friday 16 January 2015), announced that the department would be proceeding with the ‘enhanced’ fees for money claims and merely pointed out that the Government had powers under s180 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which stated that court fees are not limited by the cost of proceedings.
The MoJ in their response went on to state that the “£120 million per annum in additional income, reducing the cost of HMCTS to the taxpayer, helping to ensure that the courts are properly resourced and assuring access to justice for those who need it.”
The reality is that the increased fees will prevent those who cannot afford them from obtaining access to justice, thereby undermining the principle of equality before the law.
If resourcing the courts properly was the aim why did the MoJ not implement its' original proposal to increase court fees in commercial proceedings?
That would have brought in more revenue from businesses using the commercial courts which are more likely to be able to afford these dramatic increases.
Yet the fees for them have remained the same and only injured individuals are being required to pay such high fees.
Lord Faulks argued in the House of Lords that “litigation is very much an optional activity”, but I disagree.
Every day I speak to people who have been left with catastrophic injuries through no fault of their own.
They want answers, admissions and accountability and need financial redress for what they have lost and what they will need to live.
More often than not the civil justice system is the only way for them to try to achieve this.
Claimants do not make whimsical decisions to start litigation. Litigation is a stressful process where the burden of proof is on the injured party, the Claimant.
Sometimes, however, it is the only option available to someone who has been seriously injured to get the care, treatment, aids and equipment that they need after suffering life changing injuries.
It is worth noting it is only the Claimant who has to pay the issue fee, and who will bear the brunt of these “enhanced” fees not the defendant who they allege caused them the injury in the first place.
This highlights an unacceptable ‘inequality of arms’ between the Claimant and the Defendant.
Very few people have £10,000 to pay the court fee that they would now need to pay before they could even begin to bring their claim.
If you were in their position would you have £10,000 lying around to pay just one fee?
These fees are contrary to clause 40 of the Magna Carta in every way; access to justice is being sold to those who can afford it and refused for those who cannot, and to suggest otherwise because injured people have a choice is nonsense.
For our clients and those who will be injured in the future through negligence, litigation is very much a necessity to maintain any quality of life.