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Courts: Fees

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 20 March 2008

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in light of paragraph 37 of the judgment of the European Court of 4 March in Polejowski v Poland, they will ensure that English courts have the power to “secure a proper balance between, on the one hand, the interest of the State in collecting court fees for dealing with claims and, on the other hand, the interest of the applicant in pursuing his claim.” [HL2413]

Citizens in a democracy under the rule of law have a constitutional right to a court system, but it is not a constitutional right to free access, provided those who cannot pay are protected.

A review of the previous system of exemptions and remissions was undertaken during 2006 and the recommended changes led to the development of proposals which were subject to a public consultation between 2 April and 25 June 2007. On 1 October 2007, a revised single system of fee remissions was introduced that was designed to protect access to the courts for the less well-off in a fair, consistent and transparent way.

Access to the courts is enshrined in Section 92(3) of the Courts Act 2003, by which the Lord Chancellor must have regard to the principle that access to the courts must not be denied in prescribing court fees and the remission system. Unlike the Republic of Poland, in England and Wales the determination of fee remissions is undertaken not by the courts, but by court officers as part of their administrative function.