Implementing increases to selected court and tribunal fees – Law Society response

We’ve responded to a government consultation on proposals to change selected court and tribunal fees.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) sought views on proposals to deliver increases to selected court and tribunal fees, to partially reflect changes in the general level of prices.

The proposals

The MoJ aims to support the continuous improvement of His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and reduce the cost to the taxpayer to fund its services.

The proposals include:

  • increasing selected court and tribunal fees from 2024
  • establishing regular fee updates every two years
  • enhancing the council tax liability order fee, to retain its £0.50p value

Read the proposals

Our view

In principle, we do not oppose a periodic increase in line with inflation, however we're concerned that the government is seeking a 10% increase in court fees while managing an increasingly broken system.

We're concerned how this may impact the public’s ability to access justice, particularly against a backdrop of high inflation and the cost-of-living crisis.

If all fees for HMCTS are to be automatically uprated in the justice system, that should apply to all fees and costs, including legal aid and ‘help with fees’.

We also believe that the government should introduce a minimum service level standard should be introduced across all jurisdictions that includes:

  • clear processing times
  • guidelines
  • performance metrics that define expectations for efficiency

This will help:

  • manage expectations, alleviating some of the stress and frustration that delays can cause
  • ensure timely access to justice.

Where these standards are not met, end users should be reimbursed appropriately, such as getting a refund of a proportion of the fee they've paid to use the system.

Our recommendations

The MoJ's proposals refer to increasing court fees to fund the civil and criminal courts. But most processes in the criminal court do not have fees attached to them and are brought by the state. We would therefore ask the MoJ to provide a breakdown of the criminal division costs versus other divisions.

We believe that any assistance with court fees should reflect the level at which those fees are set in the future. The government must make sure that no one is prevented from access to justice because the court fees are not affordable.

With its backlogs and delays, the current court system does not offer people good value for money. Investment is needed immediately to ensure we have courts that are fit for purpose and that court users are getting value for money.

Digitising existing processes was supposed to make them more accessible, quicker and cost efficient for court users.

Despite the good intentions of the court reform programme, court users and legal professionals have faced growing delays in the court system and increased costs in dealing with inefficient technologies.

We therefore think the government should bear the cost of the challenges created by the reform programme.

Next steps

The consultation closed on 22 December 2023.

The government published its response on 1 April 2024.

The MoJ confirmed in its response that it will proceed with increases of 10% to 172 of the 202 fees originally proposed. These will come into force in May 2024.

We did not agree with the proposed increase to the divorce application fee. The divorce process has been simplified and is now almost entirely online meaning less scrutiny and resource from the court service is needed.

It is positive, therefore, that they have decided not to increase this fee in recognition of the feedback received.

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