Court fees to rise despite opposition
Court fees to rise despite opposition
The Government has indicated that it intends to go ahead with court fee increases, despite widespread opposition to the move.
The decision comes in response to a consultation carried out by the Ministry of Justice, seeking views on increasing selected court fees in line with the rate of inflation.
The consultation, which ran from March to May this year, attracted a total of 89 responses, mostly from those working in the legal or public sector, or from members of the public.
61% of respondents disagreed with the proposal to apply inflation (backdated to 2016, or the year the fee was last amended, if later) to selected court fees, whilst 39% of respondents agreed with the proposal.
Many of the respondents who disagreed with the proposal argued that this was not the right time to increase court fees due to the impacts of Covid-19, and raised concerns that the proposed fee increases could reduce access to justice.
And even a number of respondents who agreed with the concept of inflationary increases nevertheless noted that now, during the pandemic, may not be the right time to implement these changes.
In its response Resolution, the association of family layers, said: “Our position remains that the case for setting court fees purely on the basis of the cost of the service provided by the courts has not been made in relation to family proceedings. There is no justification for charging the public more than the actual cost … of the service to pursue a legal remedy which is their right under statute. Whatever the value of the proceedings to them, there is the issue of affordability. We believe that increased fees will be beyond the reach of many and fees exemption is not widely available.”
Notwithstanding these responses the Government has decided to press ahead with the fee increases, saying: “The Government believes there is a strong justification to proceed with increasing certain court fees … by inflation. The proposed increases reflect historic inflation and are therefore not an increase in real terms. The income generated from these proposals [expected to be between £20 and £25 million per annum] will go towards the running cost of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’) and will ensure that the courts and tribunals can continue to deliver access to justice for all”.
What does this mean for users of the family courts?
The increases will include a number of family court fees, In particular, the fee for issuing divorce proceedings will rise, from £550 to £593, the fee for applying for a child arrangements order will rise from £215 to £232, and the fee on an application for a financial remedies order on divorce will go up from £255 to £275.
Perhaps the most noticeable, and most concerning, of those increases is in respect of issuing divorce proceedings.
Resolution warned about this, saying that an increase “could readily result in people remaining in marriages which have failed and in conflict for longer, which has been consistently demonstrated not to be in the best interests of children. This flies in the face of the whole point of the new [no-fault] divorce legislation … And it risks people being trapped in an abusive relationship”.
And as they indicated above, it has previously been calculated that the present fee of £550 is already more than an uncontested divorce costs HMCTS. Further to that, most divorces are now being conducted online, which is even cheaper for HMCTS.
When the present fee was introduced it was said by some commentators that it represented a ‘tax on divorce’. Certainly, it is difficult to see why those unfortunate enough to be going through marriage breakdown must pay more for the service than it actually costs.
Help with the fees is available for those on low incomes, but there will still be some people who will simply be unable to afford to get divorced.
The new fees are expected to be introduced in the autumn.