Introductory and general remarks
These proposals follow immediately behind a wider range of court fee increases to which the Civil Justice Council (CJC) has responded in detail. The comments and concerns expressed in that, and earlier court fee consultations, apply equally to the present set of proposals both in terms of general principles (the impact on access to justice and the use of civil fees to subsidise the whole justice system) and business effectiveness (such as proceeding on the basis of an insubstantial evidence-base).
This response thus concentrates on the four questions posed in Part 2 of the Government’s Response on the second part of the enhanced court fee proposals.
The impact assessment for these proposals makes an assumption that there will be no change in the number of these applications following the introduction of increased charges. The CJC consider that to be, at best, a questionable assumption, for reasons set out below in the answers to individual questions. It also queries the evidence-base for this specific set of proposals – the impact assessment makes clear that the underlying research was broad-based or out of date (fees have risen dramatically since the 2007 survey). Neither basis provides an adequate justification for reform. In addition, no account has been taken of the impact of the large fee increases imposed only 8 months before these proposals were published.
A major concern for the Council is the disproportionate cost effects of this set of fee rises. In the first place the April 2014 increases had less impact on small claims, but the current measures have a particularly adverse effect on lower value claimants. For example, any application made in claims of £1500 or less will cost more than the fee for commencing proceedings – including those on application for an adjournment on grounds of ill health.
An assumption is made on these increased costs being recoverable. That is not always possible and depends on the circumstances of the case and a defendant’s means.
Another concern is that in some of the general applications the court acts as little more than a ‘rubber stamp’ and the size of this increase is excessive given the limited nature of the administrative task.
A further general point that should be noted is that the costs of these increases will be passed on by claimants. Lenders and landlords in particular will review rates and rents and recover them from mortgage payers and tenants. This is out of line with the Government’s policy objective of reducing insurance premiums by bearing down on litigation costs.