The UK government's plans to increase court fees by up to 600% has been condemned by lawyers' groups, who have warned the move will have a devastating effect on ordinary and disadvantaged people seeking justice.
Lawyers have also warned that the proposed increase will succeed only in driving 'big ticket' litigation abroad - risking London's global reputation as a leader in dispute resolution.
The government's latest consultation on the issue of increased court fees concluded last week, which led the Law Society to lead the opposition to the move - which is backed by members of the legal profession and judiciary.
The government plans to increase the cost of issuing proceedings for monetary claims to 5% of the value of the claim for all claims over £10,000 - with the maximum court fee set at £10,000.
Fees are also intended to be increased for possession claims as well as a variety of general applications in the civil and family courts.
Andrew Caplen, the President of the Law Society, said:
The government appears to be on a mission to turn the courts into a profit centre, amounting to a flat tax on those seeking justice.
As well as affecting those who have been injured, the increases may leave small and medium sized businesses saddled with debts they are due but unable to afford to recover.
Social landlords and council - which provide vital housing for older people, women fleeing domestic violence and those on low incomes - will be hammered by the government's latest proposals.
The Bar Council have also joined in the condemnation of the plans, highlighting the impact on disadvantaged claimants and their families. Bar chairman Alistair MacDonald QC said:
Families and carers of those who lack mental capacity, as well as the sufferers themselves, often struggle financially. They should not be additionally or disproportionately burdened.
The Bar Council has also warned that raising fees will lead to poor management of court proceedings, with Macdonald adding:
It is right that court users make a contribution, but wrong in principle that court fees should be used to generate more money than the courts cost to operate.
Everyone benefits from having an effective, accessible system of legal redress, even those who do not actually end up using it.
The Civil Justice Council have also criticised what they call 'disproportionate' claim fee increases, claiming that the impact assessment carried out by the government makes the 'questionable assumption' that the amount of claims and applications will not change following the fee increase.
Keith Etherington, council member for civil litigation with the Law Society, said:
There is shared astonishment that the government has ignored the concerns of everyone in the profession and judiciary about the impact on access to justice."
The most vulnerable, most injured, most disabled, and most in need of the courts' help will have to stump up - it hard to see how anyone can do this.
To front-load an action with the cost to the court service at the point of issue is fundamentally wrong, when the biggest cost to the court service is when cases go to trial.
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