On 22 July the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) began a further consultation about recovering more money, by way of fees, towards the cost of running the courts from those who use them. Subject to consultation, which will close on 15 September, the measures now proposed are estimated to recover a further £48 million annually from court users in England & Wales.
The latest court fee proposals from the Ministry are quite clearly set in the context of the Government’s wider drive to look towards cost savings and/or charging arrangements across the State. Courts Minister Shailesh Vara says in the foreword to the consultation that: “The Courts and tribunals must continue to play their part in this national effort as much as any other public service.”
The measures proposed of most interest to users of civil courts include:
- a ‘general uplift’ [sic] of 10% in certain civil fees
- an increase in application fees of either £50 or £100 (depending on whether the application is by consent or contested)
- certain increases in the fees raised in the Court of Appeal, and
- a doubling of the cap on the issue fee, to take it to £20,000 (the fee being 5% of the value claimed, but subject to the cap).
The application fee increases set out above had already been put forward in the previous consultation that preceded the first round of court fee increases in March. The latest paper now reports on the views submitted by consultees on that occasion and records that “96% disagreed with the proposals” to increase application fees.
The MoJ is pressing ahead even in the face of this level of opposition, asserting that “we do not anticipate that the increases will have a significant impact on demand”. The reality could well turn out to be different from the MoJ’s anticipation.
In respect of the final proposal above, it should be noted that the cap of £10,000 was introduced only in March and that it is proposed that it will continue at that level for personal injury and clinical negligence claims only.
What, therefore, of contribution claims between defendants relating to incidents giving rise to injury? The Court of Appeal confirmed last year (in Wagenaar v Weekend Travel & Serradj) that these are not personal injury claims for the purposes of costs protection (via Qualified One-way Costs Shifting). It could well be that they would not necessarily be personal injury claims for the purposes of calculating the relevant issue fee cap. That could introduce a further financial and tactical variable into the handling of such cases.
It is probably prudent to proceed on the basis that the changes will be implemented as outlined here. The MoJ’s intention to proceed despite 96% objecting last time round is evidence enough of that. Whether there will be a rush to issue claims before the increased issue fees bite remains to be seen.
The latest consultation comes only a day after the Commons Justice Select Committee announced an enquiry into the impact and effects of the first round of court fee increases, ie those introduced in March. As to timing, the Ministry’s consultation about proposed further increases closes on 15 September 2015, whereas the Select Committee’s enquiry into the effect of the current increased fees will take evidence until 30 September.
Ministers and MPs have just broken up for the long summer recess. Those concerned with funding court fees – whether in pursuing claims or in paying, by way of recoverable disbursements, the fees incurred by claimants – should use this period to consider their reaction to the proposed changes. The experience of the first round of increases in March points to the Government looking for swift implementation once the consultation period ends.
About the Author
Alistair Kinley is BLM’s Director of Policy & Government Affairs.
Alistair is responsible for BLM’s engagement with government departments and regulators on policy and public affairs issues and consultations affecting the firm and its customers. He coordinated BLM’s market-facing activities in connection with the Insurance Act 2015 and the consultations which preceded its publication and introduction in Parliament.
He is a member of the Civil Justice Council (CJC), a regular speaker and experienced commentator on legal and procedural reforms and was a contributing editor to the Law Society’s Litigation Funding Handbook (September 2014).