“Access to Justice Denied – Insufficient Funds”
On 4 March 2015 Parliament passed a Bill enacting the Lord Chancellor’s proposal to increase Court fees for claims commenced in the Courts of England and Wales. The new law, which comes into effect on 9 March 2015, applies to all personal injury and clinical negligence claims.
The new Court fees represent a huge increase on the existing fees and claimants will now be required to pay 5% of the estimated value of their claim to commence court proceedings. Claimants wishing to bring claims in excess of £200,000 will now have to pay an eye-watering £10,000.
Here are examples of the fee increases:
|Value of claim £||Fee now £||New fee £||Increase in fee £||% increase|
In recent months the legal profession has voiced grave concern that the move will deter genuine claimants from seeking justice. Claimants making claims for compensation for injury do so because they have suffered significant physical and financial loss; the compensation is intended to put them in the position they would have been (so far as money can), had they not been injured at the hands of another. Compensation helps get lives back on track, paying for treatment, rehabilitation and care. Often, if a claimant is unable to work, he or she will have no means of paying the exorbitant Court fees that are being introduced.
It is not just the lawyers who object to the increases. Many within the House of Lords opposed the passing of the Bill last night. Lord Pannick expressed concern that the new law:
“will do incredible damage to the legal heritage because it will impede access to justice … For litigants to have to pay such substantial sums in advance of bringing a legal claim will inevitably, in practice, deny access to the court for many traders, small businesses and people suing for personal injuries”.
Lord Beecham drew comparison to similar changes in the employment tribunals, where charges were introduced for hearings, leading to a substantial decline in the number of cases being brought. He asked:
“why, in the light of the 80% decline in the number of employment tribunal cases since the imposition of charges — quite contrary to the Government’s predictions — we should accept the Government’s assurances that there would be little or no effect on access to justice from this measure?”
Lord Howarth considered the potential illegality and unconstitutional nature of the new law:
“To me, access to justice is fundamental to the very nature of British citizenship. The rule of law and equality before the law are, or should be, bedrocks of our constitution and our liberal society. The essential principle, which we must preserve, is that no one should be prevented from bringing a reasonable case to court for lack of financial means. This order violates that principle”.
Lord Pannick summed it up the feeling of many:
“Funds are needed to pay for the court system, but there is no point in having a civil court system if ordinary people are to be charged an entry fee which they cannot afford to bring basic claims for breach of contract and personal injuries. The Minister described litigation—I wrote this down, because it was a very striking phrase—as an “optional activity”, like a skiing holiday or a visit to a three-starred Michelin restaurant. As the Minister well knows from his experience as a very successful barrister, for many people—those suing for debts or to recover compensation for personal injury—litigation is often a necessity to keep your business alive or to maintain any quality of life. The Minister is absolutely right that there are already many impediments to access to justice. That is surely no justification—no excuse—for the state to erect further high barriers.”
Many believe that the proposals contravene the Magna Carta, which prohibits the “selling” of justice. By imposing Court fees that exceed the overall cost to the state of administering a claim, it is argued that Mr Grayling is now doing just that.
Thankfully, the Law Society of England and Wales, in conjunction with various legal groups, have instigated a Judicial Review of the new law, alleging that it is unlawful and in effect a “tax” to save the Government money. Allegations are made that the Government has yet to show how the money generated will be spent. To learn more about the Law Society’s Campaign, please visit www.lawsociety.org.uk/policy-campaigns/articles/court-fee-increases/.