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MoJ research carried out before civil court fee increase was 'hopeless'

Lord tells committee that 'it's just a matter of common sense' that access to justice has been impeded as a result of the fee increases

26 January 2016

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Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls, has said that the 'enhanced' civil court fees brought in by the government in April 2015 were the product of 'hopeless' research, which were rushed in to plug a financial gap in the system.

'We have warned of the real dangers and we also warned of the research that was done by the government before it embarked on this course was lamentable, frankly. The first time round they made 18 telephone calls, of which 12 were big users of the court; they supplemented this and they got up to 31,' he told a justice select committee on Tuesday (26 January) morning.

'Of the 31, a very very small number were people who were, or who bring larger claims. When I say larger claims, I mean claims of more than £10,000. And so, I'm afraid, we warned that the research was hopeless.

'The impression I have is, such was the need to rush this thing through because there was a great big bang in the departments finances which had to be plugged, I got the sense that it was an almost desperate way of carrying on.'

The introduction of 'enhanced' civil court fees for financial claims markedly ramped up the amount a claimant would have to pay before proceedings commenced.

All claims worth over £10,000 now come with an initial charge of £2,500 which has to be paid up front - the government said at the time that this plan of action was taken to ensure the civil court system can fund itself.

Lord Dyson said that this strategy is 'wrong in principle'.

'It's not a principle I like. That the users of the civil courts are subsidising the family courts and indeed even the criminal courts. It's something which I think is wrong in principle. That principle is ultimately a policy decision for government and parliament as to whether to go down that route, it has chosen to go down that route and I can see the reasons for it.

'So long as it doesn't impede access to justice, then I don't think it's the most terrible thing that's happened.'

When asked if he believed we have reached a point where access to justice is now being impeded, he responded: 'Yes.'

'I'm afraid the risk of denying access to a lot of people is so intense. I'm particularly concerned about, not the people at the very bottom end, people who are entitled to fee remission, although the level of fee remission is set so low that it only captures the really poor people.

'Ordinary people who are on modest incomes don't qualify and they're the sort of people who I think would inevitably be deterred from litigating. I don't say it in all cases of course, but I'm particularly concerned about the small and medium enterprises.

As well as denying access to justice for private individuals, he said that small business will also suffer.

'I take the example of the builder who is seeking £50,000 from a client. He now has to pay £2,500 upfront as a condition of starting his claim. Previously the fee was about £800. That is a massive increase.'

'It is bound to be severely deterring, of course not the very rich people, it won't deter them. But the small business, the sort of businesses that actually this government apparently says time and time again they want to encourage, because they will be the engine that will provide the growth that this country needs.

'They're the very people, many of whom are most at risk and who are most likely to be put off because litigation is a stressful and expensive business at the best of times. If you have to put up £2,500 in cash up front before you even get your foot in the door, that's bound to. It's just a matter of common sense.'

 

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