It is the stated aim of the current Scottish Government that the cost of civil justice in Scotland, in the Court of Session and Sheriff Courts, be borne entirely by the litigants so that there is no requirement for public funding of the civil court service. To achieve this the Government will have to close a £5.4 million funding gap in the courts budget. On the 26th July the Government launched a consultation to decide how best to put up court prices.
The Scottish Government is proposing two options for the fee increases. The first is a blanket 24% rise to all court fees, the second is targeted fee increases in certain services. The legal profession and other stakeholders have been asked to pick a preference and Clyde and Co Scotland have been taking part in the process representing the interests of our insurer clients. The consultation is ongoing until 12th October.
By way of illustration under the current regime if a case runs to Proof (Scottish civil trial) in the Court of Session the fee for the hearing would be £192 per hour. After the proposed increases the fee will become £400 per hour, if the Government opts for targeted increases. Therefore the court fee for a 4 day Court of Session Proof would increase from £3840 to £8000. If the outcome of the proof is appealed, and the appeal goes to a hearing before a three judge bench, the court fee for the hearing would be £1000 an hour under proposed targeted increases.
The Government’s consultation document expresses the view that the proposed fee increases will not reach the tipping point where the level of court fees deters parties from bringing litigation, particularly given that there will still be exemptions for those on low incomes. That may well be true given that in the majority of civil litigation the claimant will be confident that court fees will eventually be borne by the defender or more likely their insurers. Much of the money that will be saved by the Scottish Government will still be passed onto the general public (probably throughout the UK) by way of increased insurance premiums. However the funding gap is eventually to be filled, what has already been decided is that civil litigants in Scotland are to become paying customers rather than citizens seeking justice from the state.