I am today announcing the publication of the Government’s consultation “Court Fees: Proposals for reform” (Cm 8751).
For many years, the civil court system has operated under the principle that those who use the courts should pay the full cost of the service they receive. However, this has not yet been achieved in practice, and, last year, the deficit was more than £100 million. In a time when we have made deficit reduction our top priority, the Government do not believe that the courts can be immune from the tough decisions we have had to take in order to bring public spending in line with what we can afford.
With that in mind, this consultation outlines the Government’s approach to reducing the cost of the court service to the taxpayer. We seek to do this in two steps.
The first seeks to align court fees with the cost of the service provided, to move closer to our long-term goal of cost recovery through fees. The remissions system will, of course, remain in place, to protect access to justice for those who cannot afford to pay a fee.
However, the Government believe that, in some cases, it is right that those who use the courts pay more than what it costs, where they can afford to do so. The second step of our proposal seeks the introduction of enhanced fees, which will ensure that the taxpayer does not subsidise cases involving sums of money far in excess of any proposed fees.
There will, of course, be measures in place to protect against setting excessive fees and our proposals include scrapping the £75 application fee for domestic violence injunctions which will help thousands of women seeking non-molestation and occupation orders. The Lord Chancellor’s existing duty to protect access to justice will continue to apply and he will also be required to consider the overall financial position of the courts and the impact of any fee changes on the legal services market, so that they do not risk our competitive position. Any enhanced fees which, following this consultation, the Government decide to introduce will be subject to a full parliamentary debate before they come into force.
The consultation lasts for seven weeks, during which time the MOJ will actively engage with stakeholders.
Copies of the Government consultation will be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
An online version of this consultation will be available at: www.gov.uk/moj.