Every Claimant, who issues legal proceedings through the court system, is required to pay a court issue fee (this also applies to Defendants who issue a counterclaim). The issue fee payable is directly linked to the sum claimed. Following a consultation in December 2013, on proposals to increase court fees in a number of areas, the Ministry of Justice has recently announced it will increase issue fees for money claims from 9 March 2015. The fee increases for money claims means:
- The fee for claims from £1 – £9,999 will remain unchanged;
- The fee for claims from £10,000 – £199,999 will be five per cent of the claim;
- The fee for claims for £200,000 and above will be fixed at £10,000; and
- There will be a 10 per cent discount on fees for claims from £10,000 – £99,999 filed electronically.
The proposed increase in court fees has sparked much debate. The table below gives an idea of the percentage by which some court issue fees will increase. In some instances, the court issue fee will rise by over 600%.
|Value of claim £||Fee now £ (paper)||New fee £||Increase in fee £||% increase|
The reasoning behind the proposed increases The Ministry of Justice hope to generate £120 million annually from the proposed increased court fees, as there is an argument that people using the court system do not currently pay for the full service they receive. The deficit last year was around £100 million. Accordingly, the government has taken the view that the courts cannot be immune from tough decisions in order to bring public spending in line with what they can afford. The government has explained that its proposals to increase court fees will not affect those bringing a small claim i.e. a claim under £10,000. Instead it will only affect claimants issuing claims for large monetary sums who will require a more extensive service from the court. There is also an argument that increasing the court fees will act as a deterrent to those bringing a spurious/unfounded claim, and will ensure that claimants properly consider the merits of their claim before taking the decision to issue legal proceedings. On that basis, the government has argued that it does not envisage a decrease in genuine claims. Opposition to the proposed increase in fees The Law Society has issued a pre-action protocol letter for judicial review to challenge the government’s decision to increase court fees by such a significant amount. The Law Society has argued that a substantial proportion of civil litigation should be funded by the public purse rather than wholly by the litigants themselves, as it is in the interests of the civilised society in which we live for litigants to seek redress through the court system rather than ‘take matters into their own hands’. In addition, the Law Society has questioned how the government will utilise the increased revenue and, if there is to be a major investment into the court system, queried whether this should actually lead to a decrease in court fees moving forward. The issue has sparked a lively debate in the House of Lords. One speaker has pointed out that the imposition of substantial fees has led to an 80% reduction in employment appeal tribunal applications and a 90% reduction in sex discrimination cases. The concern is that civil claims will follow this pattern and that claimants with legitimate claims will no longer be able to afford to seek recourse through the justice system. Watch this space… The debate as to whether the increase in court fees will act as a deterrent to spurious claims or as a barrier to justice looks set to continue. The court fees will increase on 9 March 2015. However, with this change comes fierce opposition. We will have to watch this space to see how this issue is resolved.