Skip to main content

Courts: Fees

Volume 694: debated on Wednesday 25 July 2007

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing the outcome of the recent consultation on civil court fees. The consultation paper was published on 2 April and the consultation closed on 25 June. Some 77 responses were received from the judiciary, legal professions and other stakeholder bodies.

After careful consideration of these, I have, with some adjustments, decided to proceed with the changes proposed. Three statutory instruments containing the new civil, family and non-contentious probate court fees will be laid before the House tomorrow and will take effect on 1 October.

A further statutory instrument containing the new fees for magistrates’ courts is still being drafted and will be laid during the Recess. However, this should not affect the implementation date. A report analysing the responses to consultation will be published on 1 October.

The current system of exemptions and remissions has been replaced with a new system of concessions that will apply to all the fees orders. The scheme will be based on two distinct tests.

The first test will determine whether the applicant is automatically entitled to a full remission of the court fee. This will apply if the applicant is currently receiving a prescribed means-tested benefit or, failing that, can demonstrate that their gross household income is below a threshold that probably entitles them to such a benefit.

The second, more detailed, test will consider both gross income and fixed outgoings to assess the applicant’s net or disposable income. The applicant may then be required to pay a contribution towards the fee based on a fraction of their disposable income. This system is a simplified version of the means test for legal aid.

In light of the responses received, we have reconsidered the original proposals and have adjusted some of the fees accordingly, putting together a package of solutions that positively and affordably addresses the majority of concerns. Those are as follows.

A majority agreed that the new concession should have a residual discretion to grant remission in exceptional circumstances not covered by the means test. A clause has been added to allow this. Full training will be given to staff to understand what can and cannot be considered exceptional to maximise consistency.

Vexatious litigants who would normally be exempt from paying court fees due to financial hardship will be required to pay the full fee of an application for permission to bring a case.

Some of the proposals for downstream civil fees have been adjusted to better reflect the cost of the stages concerned; for example, the fee for allocation questionnaires and listing questionnaires has changed. This has created scope to make larger reductions to some of the higher-issue fees than originally proposed, meeting the criticism that these were too low.

In the magistrates’ courts, a fee of £400 was proposed for appeals against the decisions of public authorities, mainly licensing decisions. Some respondents objected that this proposal was likely to deter those individuals from appealing to the granting of liquor licences in their neighbourhood. As a consequence, the definition has been amended so that it applies only to an appeal against a decision by a local authority to refuse a licence. The general fees that apply to miscellaneous magistrates’ civil proceedings will apply to an appeal against the granting of a licence.

Many consultees disagreed with the scale of proposed increases to fees for ancillary matters such as oaths, copying and searches. As a consequence, a number of detailed adjustments have been made.

The proposal to pilot daily hearing fees in the specialist commercial jurisdictions in 2008 was met with opposition from respondents representing the views of legal practitioners and the judiciary of those courts. We therefore propose to review the scope proposed, to then be the subject of a target consultation. As a result, any introduction of a scheme is unlikely to take place before 2009.