Court fees battle enters new phase

The war of words between the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the legal profession over court fees escalated during the last week of February. Nine signatories, including the Law Society, Bar Council and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, have now signed a pre-action protocol letter as a prelude to a possible judicial review of the MoJ’s plan. The letter claims six grounds for challenging the MoJ’s scheme – including that they would be tantamount to ‘selling justice’, contrary to the principles of Magna Carta.

The focal point for the dispute relates to the MoJ’s plans to alter the way in which court fees for money claims worth £10,000 or more are calculated. Under the ministry’s proposals, the fees would be fixed at five per cent of the claim’s value – up to a cap of £10,000 for claims worth £200,000 or more. By way of comparison, the current court fees for a £200,000 claim are just £1,515.

At T M Costings, we fully support our fellow practitioners’ decision to threaten a judicial review, which we hope will cause the MoJ to withdraw its proposal. However, we also fear for what might happen if this dispute cannot be resolved in the next few weeks. Arguably the worst case scenario would be that court fees do increase as planned in April 2015 – but the change is then ruled unlawful several months later. Indeed, the forthcoming general election merely adds to the uncertainly regarding this issue. At present, we have no way of knowing if the next justice minister will support their own department’s current court fees policy.

In light of this potential uncertainty, we suggest that prospective claimants should consider issuing proceedings sooner rather than later. At the very least, issuing early will allow them to avoid uncertainty regarding the fees they will be asked to pay. In addition, claimants with higher value claims may also save several thousand pounds in fees, in the event that the MoJ is ultimately successful.

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