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‘Stealth’ introduction of family court fees enrages lawyers

20 January 2006

Legal bodies have slammed the “stealthy” introduction of new family court fees for further stretching the legal aid budget and adversely impacting access to justice.

Fee hikes, which took effect on 10 January, have increased the cost of trying to secure a contact order with a child from £30 to £175 and the fee of commencing care proceedings to protect vulnerable children from £50 to £150. These are just two of a whole ream of fee increases affecting civil and family proceedings and the fees payable to magistrates’ courts. The costs of start proceedings under the Children Act 1999 and Child Support Act 1991 have been hit particularly hard, with increases as high as 875 per cent.

Law Society president Kevin Martin said: “We are extremely disappointed that the government has implemented almost all of the increases proposed for family court cases. People should not have to pay such a high price for the right to see their child. This places a heavy burden on low income families who simply want the best for their children. The financial benefits of the courts being self-funded have not been demonstrated and so this looks like another stealth tax.”

Family solicitors’ group Resolution said the fee increases have been introduced in a “stealthy fashion” and that “many solicitors have been made aware of the increases as a result of rejection of applications that have been filed over the Christmas break”.

Resolution chair Kim Beatson said: “There is a particular concern that the proposed fee increases will place greater burden on the capped legal aid fund and on those solicitors who are obliged to discharge these fees and then to seek reimbursement from the legal aid fund. Inevitably this will cause greater cash flow problems to the diminishing number of solicitors who are prepared to accept publicly funded work. The proposed increases will tend to increase the Treasury’s reluctance to provide a proper increase to the rates paid to legal aid solicitors.”

A full breakdown of the new court fees can be found on www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk.

Categorised in:

Legal Aid Children Costs Funding