‘Offensively perfunctory’: justice committee not impressed by MoJ’s dismissal of critical court fees report

The Ministry of Justice has revealed that it is looking at further court fee increases in its response to a highly critical report of the House of Commons’ justice committee. Back in June the MPs reported that the introduction of employment tribunal fees had led to a drop of almost 70% in the number of cases – as reported on LegalVoice here. The committee also called for the increase in the divorce petition fee – from £410 to £550 – to be scrapped and said it was ‘unwise’ for ministers to seek full cost recovery in immigration and asylum cases.

The MoJ in its response to the committee’s report noted that the net cost of the court service to the taxpayer last year was £1.2 billion. ‘This is unsustainably high and we think that it is right to reconsider the balance of funding between the taxpayer and those who use the courts and tribunals and can afford to make a larger contribution,’ it said. ‘We will continue to look for opportunities to increase fee income where they are justified.’

Bob Neill, the Conservative chair of the Justice Committee, said it was ‘disappointing’ that the government response’s to their report was ‘so negative’. ‘Perhaps more concerning is that it is almost offensively perfunctory, appearing to have been rushed out at short notice and giving little evidence of attention paid to the Committee’s detailed evidence and analysis,’ he continued. ‘This is all the more surprising given that Government has had more than four months to produce this reply. I therefore intend to raise this matter and possible further steps with the Committee at our next meeting.’

The MoJ rejected the MPs’ recommendation to scrap the increase in divorce fees. There was ‘no evidence’ so far that the fee increase had led to a fall in applications for a divorce, it claimed. ‘We are continuing to monitor the position carefully,’ the MoJ said. ‘Overall, we believe that the fee for a divorce is reasonable when considered against the objectives, generating an estimated £12 million per annum in additional fee income as a contribution to the savings required to make sure that the courts and tribunals are properly funded, and that access to justice is protected.’

Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, chairman of the Bar, also said that the Government’s response to the  report was ‘deeply disappointing’.  ‘The Government seems wedded to the principle that courts should be used as a source of revenue, despite repeated calls for a review and the growing evidence that this approach is effectively pricing people out of justice,’ she said. ‘Hardworking people seeking justice through the courts have been hit with a 600% increase in court fees, a 500% increase in immigration tribunal charges, and charges of up to £1,500 for employment tribunals, but still there has been no impact review of these fees on access to justice.’

‘This puts even more pressure on the Government urgently to announce the date for the long-awaited review of LASPO, which we know has denied access to justice for hundreds of thousands of people. When individuals use the courts, they do so to uphold rights and to enforce legal agreements, and that helps to ensure that everyone in society plays by the rules. We should not treat justice as a commodity; it is a right.’
Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, chairman of the Bar Council

The Law Society president Robert Bourns said that ‘punitive’ fee increases were ‘denying justice to citizens and businesses’. ‘Our justice system is a public service that underpins democratic society,’ Bourns continued. ‘While it is not unreasonable to ask people to contribute to the costs of the courts they use, each of us should be able to assert and protect our rights in those courts should the need arise.’

Immigration tribunal fee increases of more than 500% would have ‘a chilling effect on people’s ability to pursue appeals’, the Law Society said. ‘This represents a serious denial of justice, particularly in an area where administrative decisions are frequently incorrect and there is a high success rate on appeal.’

 

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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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