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Civil Justice Council respond to proposed court fee increase

The Civil Justice Council has now published its response from the consultation.

Following our earlier update on the Ministry of Justice (“MoJ”) Consultation (“the Consultation”) which sought views on increasing court fees, the Civil Justice Council (“CJC”) has now published its response.

The Consultation proposed:

  • an increase of approximately 202 court fees by 10%; and
  • establishing a review process for court fees every two years, having regard to the general level of prices and HMCTS costs.

A letter from the Secretary to the CJC to the MoJ (in December 2023 but only just published) contains not only their constructive concerns about the proposed fee increase but also an expression of dissatisfaction with the current ‘value for money’ the court system is delivering. The CJC’s objections include:

  • A 10% increase in court fees would result in substantial additional financial pressure for litigants. The CJC specifically disagree with the impact assessment annexed to the Consultation that states a 10% fee increase would achieve an ‘optimal balance’ between a ‘sustainable funding model’ and ‘keeping fees affordable for court users’.
  • Whilst the MoJ state the fee increase is intended to support HMCTS to continue delivering its services efficiently and effectively, the CJC states that the current delivery in the county court is in many cases neither efficient or effective. Further, the reduction in staffing is not reflected in lower fees. The CJC has reservations that the Consultation does not properly set out the actual relationship between monies raised by fees, and the true cost, and quality, of delivery provided by the related service.
  • Changes in Consumer Price Index (“CPI”) are only one indicator of the inflation affecting HMCTS and the Services Producer Price Index (“SPPI”) metric may be better suited to reflect the increased costs facing HMCTS. The CJC’s view is that the CPI is a measure of household goods and services whereas SPPI reflects the rate of inflation across the UK’s services sector. By using the SPPI to assess any future level of fee increase would produce a 6.66% increase as opposed to 10%.
  • The Consultation also does not sufficiently explain the effect the proposed fee increase will have on access to justice or how such increase will offer a fair return to court users.

The objections raised by the CJC are numerous and certainly appear to focus on the impact any increase would have on litigators and value for money. A 10% increase in court fees will undoubtedly be detrimental to any litigators, but particularly those who are frequent users of the court system. The effects of such an increase will be far reaching and no more so than for insurers who will need to factor such additional costs into not only their reserves but their individual case strategies.

Digitalisation is at the forefront of HMCTS reform, with visions of a streamlined litigation process and costs savings. However, it appears that the CJC have concerns about the return on investment at this stage and whether the level of service from HMCTS will improve. The CJC also disagrees that a two yearly review of court fees should be implemented.

The Consultation closed on 22 December 2023 and the outcome is awaited.

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