asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they have evaluated the impact of imposing charges on suitors in civil courts upon the effective enjoyment of the right of access to justice; and, if so, what are the results of the evaluation. [HL1048]
During 2006 a fundamental review of the system of exemptions and remissions was undertaken by Her Majesty's Courts Service to evaluate whether the current system adequately protects access to justice. The review was overseen by a steering group of stakeholders, including representatives of the civil and family justice councils, members of the judiciary and advice sector, and chaired by myself.
A revised system of fee concessions has been developed and the proposals for a single system of fee concessions, which covers the High Court, county courts and magistrates’ courts, will be published in a forthcoming consultation paper. The proposals build on a system already in place and ensure we can be confident that the system is well targeted and affordable, while making more people aware of their entitlements.
In protecting access to justice, through the department's current system of fees concessions, in the past financial year (2005-06) the taxpayer in effect paid subsidies in 322,465 instances with a value of just over £29 million for exemptions and remissions. And that does not count the fees subsidised by the taxpayer through legal aid.
The Treasury has agreed that the over-recovery of £34 million can be phased out over the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 period. Therefore, Her Majesty's Courts Service proposes to use the increased income generated to fund: progressive reductions in the civil over-recovery; the additional cost of the proposed reforms in the remission and exemption policy; and any planned increases in resource spending on IT modernisation. Within civil proceedings, we are proposing to introduce hearing fees in the High Court and county court and other changes so that fees better match cost drivers.
We are also proposing to make the appropriate reductions to offset extra income from hearing fees and to eliminate the over-recovery. This would be targeted on issue fees and weighted towards the fees for using e-channels (County Court Bulk Centre, Money Claim OnLine and Possession Claim OnLine), reflecting the lower cost compared with paper issue and the objective of promoting their greater use as part of the Her Majesty's Courts Service's business strategy.