At least that is what the Law Society is alleging in its challenge to the Governments proposed hike in court fees which will diminish and undermine the civil judicial system in England and Wales. On the 800th Anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, ir is claimed the proposals constitute a sale of justice counter to one of the fundamental principles which has been part of the civil justice system in England and Wales for 800 years.
Law Society President Andrew Caplan in a statement alleges that the latest Government policy on "enhanced court fees" amounts to a flat tax on justice. The Law Society have sent a pre-action protocol letter ahead of a claim for judicial review of the Government proposal which is due to be introduced in April 2015. Some court fees are set to increase by a massive 600%, suggesting the true incentive behind the measures is to prevent Claimants bringing claims. The proposals had recently been met with serious criticism from the judiciary.
The background to the proposals go back to December 2013 when the government consulted on money claim fee rises. One of the grounds of challenge is that the consultation was flawed, the other that the increase will have a detrimental impact on access to justice for both individuals and businesses.
A recent Law Society survey from solicitors said higher court fees could:
- prevent people from going to court when they have genuine claims
- lead to small businesses entering insolvency
- provide an incentive for large companies to deny liability due to the burdensome costs associated with processing a claim
As part of the protocol letter the Law Society has asked the government to provide information on how much it intends to raise through higher fees and where the money will be spent. It has also called on the government to explain how modernisation of the court services will appear in their The grounds on which it intends to launch its claim are:
- the government does not have the power to raise fees for the purposes of making "departmental savings"
- "selling justice" runs against the principles of Magna Carta
- no evidence has been provided to justify the increases, which amount to a tax
- the government did not consider alternative options when it tabled its second round of proposals on higher fees for possession claims and general civil applications
- consultees were not told how much money needed to be raised from enhanced fees or why
- the government failed to allow representations on enhanced fees in combination with amendments to the remissions scheme
The issue is part of a wider debate about the erosion of the civil justice by the present Government . It may not be at the top of the agenda in political terms in the run up to the general election,, but the timing of the change and the impact of any judicial review challenge may at least raise public awareness about this serious issue
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