The lord chief justice casts doubt on ‘economic wisdom’ of court fee hikes

The lord chief justice called for ‘a proper balance’ to be struck between court fees and the state funding of the justice system. In his annual report published this week, Lord Thomas of Cymgiedd said that ‘a properly funded justice system’ was ‘a core function of the state’. ‘Successive rises in fees and increasing costs of litigation are undoubtedly felt acutely in the more routine and consumer cases,’ he continued. ‘Likewise, for high value and commercial litigation the wisdom of high issue fees must be questioned. It is therefore essential that a better and balanced means of financing the courts and tribunals is found.’ You can read the report here.

Noting that the judiciary has ‘voiced its concern and opposition’ to a series of fee hikes, Lord Thomas went on to say: ‘The judiciary remain very concerned about the implications for access to justice for the more mainstream, lower value, and consumer cases and the economic wisdom of the course being followed in terms of business and commercial litigation, and the competitiveness of England and Wales as the jurisdiction of choice for international disputes.’

The report also flagged up concerns about declining morale on the bench as recorded judicial attitude surveys in 2014 and 2016. He noted that judges and magistrates were having to deal with ‘increasingly complex, difficult and… unpleasant cases’. ‘Senior leadership judges cannot ignore that, in common with others in the public sector, the judiciary has been affected by successive years of pay restraint,’ Lord Thomas said, flagging up a review of judicial salaries. ‘… The reduction in morale, the very significant fall in pay and pensions in real terms, an increase in uptake of early retirement, recruitment difficulties, and the changes being implemented through the [court] modernisation programme will all be central to the review.

He also flagged up the increase in pressure and workload in the Court of Appeal which was ‘part of a relentless trend’. Applications for permission to appeal have shot up by 50% in the past five years without any increase in the number of judges. ‘There can be no doubt that the asylum and immigration caseload is having a serious, adverse impact on the work of the court,’ he added.

About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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