The government is continuing its controversial reform programme of raising extra income through higher court fees despite strong criticism. Recent changes have resulted in increases of up to 600% in certain court fees as part of the Ministry of Justice’s plans to raise £120 million in extra income. The recent changes affect commercial court fees. Money claims that fall below £10,000 will not be subject to increased fees, but claims for any amount above that have significantly higher charges. 5% of the total sum claimed will be charged up to a maximum of £10,000. The rise has been criticised by various high ranking figures, most significantly the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. Along with six other senior judges, Lord Thomas argued that the new fees would have a disproportionately adverse impact on small and medium claims and individuals’ litigations. The group of judges also warned that the new fees would damage London’s success as a hub for international legal cases. “The fees proposed are 25 to 100 times greater than those payable in New York” they pointed out in a joint statement. These concerns were echoed by the Law Society, which issued a strong condemnation of the fee rises. Arguing that they would deny low and middle income earners justice by pricing them out of the courts, as well as crippling small businesses, the Law Society said the rises “amount to the state seeking to make a profit from its citizens’ misfortunes.” Significantly, court fees are due in full before proceedings are initiated. This could stop small businesses from claiming unpaid money they are due if they do not have the cash available to begin litigation. Shailesh Vara, the justice minister, argued against the criticisms in a statement: “Increasing court fees will never be welcome. I believe, however, it is right that those who use the services should make a greater contribution towards their running costs, where they can afford to do so. I am also sure that those who choose to litigate in our courts will continue to recognise the outstanding qualities our legal services offer, and the excellent value for money they provide.” Court fees are decided on two conditions, full cost recovery and maintaining access to justice. The Ministry of Justice have argued that the current fees are not enough to recover the total cost of services, largely due to government cuts to reduce the deficit. A proposed increase to the court fee for divorce proceedings was recently abandoned after similarly strong criticism. It was also revealed that although the fee was planned to be raised from £410 to £750, the true cost of divorce proceedings to the court was only £270. Despite the continued criticism, the government has made clear that it is continuing with the program of increasing court fees. It is currently consulting on a £75 increase for landlords for recovery of land proceedings, as well as an increase of up to £100 for general applications. The Law Society has produced a template letter for members of the public to write to their MP protesting the fee increases.

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