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Civil Court System (Fees)

Volume 578: debated on Tuesday 1 April 2014

I have today laid and published the Government’s response to part one of the consultation “Court Fees, Proposals for Reform” which ran from 3 December 2013 to 21 January 2014.

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. At 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.

It was within this context that the consultation outlined the Government’s approach to reducing the cost of the court system to the taxpayer in two parts. The first part “Cost recovery” set out proposals 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 second part “Enhanced charging” set out proposals to charge users of some court services more than their cost, where they can afford to do so.

We received 162 responses to the consultation from a range of stakeholders including the judiciary, legal representative bodies, voluntary organisations, business representatives, and members of the public.

Having carefully considered the views of stakeholders, the paper published today sets out the proposals we intend to take forward in response to the cost recovery proposals in part one of the consultation. The Government will announce their response to enhanced charging proposals in part two of the consultation to this House in due course.

The changes set out in the consultation response will see fees rise for some court users so that they will pay the full cost of the service they receive, reducing the taxpayer subsidy for those able to afford higher fees and ensuring that in cases such as judicial review, those bringing claims have a more proportionate share in the financial risks of the proceedings.

In building the package of changes, the Government have sought to continue to protect the most vulnerable court users. Those with limited financial means will be able to access a system of fee remissions to ensure that they are not denied access to the courts. In addition, the scrapping of the £75 application fee for domestic violence injunctions will help thousands of women seeking non-molestation and occupation orders, while the decision to freeze many fees in family applications at current levels will assist those who need to access the courts to resolve difficult family issues.

The Government will be laying the relevant statutory instruments to implement most of the changes announced in the consultation response today and the changes will take effect on 22 April 2014.

Copies of the consultation response will be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

An online version of this consultation paper will be available at:

https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/court-fees-proposals-for-reform

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