New Government ‘reforms’ have recently come into effect resulting in up to a 600% increase in the costs of bringing a case to court. Smaller value claims below £10000 remain unchanged; but claims valued between £10000 to £199000 will have a fixed fee of 5%. Causing great alarm amongst the legal profession, the changes have prompted the Law Society to initiate judicial review proceedings in order to challenge the Government initiative. Clearly a huge increase to what litigants were previously paying, further disquiet has been expressed as fees for court action are paid in advance. In cases where damages are unknown, the maximum fee of £10000 will have to be paid, regardless of the fact that damages eventually awarded may be totally disproportionate to that fee.

Not surprisingly, many have questioned the rationale behind such an increase. Shailesh Vara, the justice minister, claims that it is right and just that claimants pay a greater contribution towards court running costs and that such claimants “will continue to recognise the outstanding qualities our legal services offer and the excellent value for money they provide.” Whilst most of us begrudgingly accept a gradual increase in price for the services we require, a six-fold increase in court fees certainly is a bitter pill to swallow. Aside from putting a larger dent in the pockets of litigants other repercussions may also result from the price increases including;

  • Those most in need of the courts help, such as the injured and disabled, may find it difficult to pay such huge fees
  • Higher value cases may be less likely to be brought in the UK with a resulting negative impact on the economy
  • A general reduction in the competitiveness of lawyers
  • Small and medium sized businesses may be compelled to accept debts they are owed but simply cannot afford to recover through the courts
  • Reduction in access to justice for individuals and small and medium sized businesses
  • Local Government and the NHS having to meet these fees out of already stretched budgets, when compensating injured Claimants – the money therefore simply being transferred from one Whitehall Department to another, and the money not being spent on tax payers or the unwell

Many of these concerns have been highlighted by Andrew Caplan, President of the Law Society, who contends that the Government appears to be transforming the courts into profit-making organisations with the natural corollary of reduced access to justice. Certainly concern has been expressed by commentators that the higher fees surpass actual court costs. Access to justice may indeed now be more about who can pay rather than who is right – surely something which strikes at the very heart of a legal system where all are equal before the law.

It cannot be right that in one of the most advanced economies in the world, and the 6th richest country in the world, that justice is fast becoming the preserve of the wealthy. For further information on how the increase in fees could affect you contact Farleys Solicitors on 0845 050 1958, alternatively please complete an online enquiry form.