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Court fees hike set for legal challenge

The body that represents solicitors in England and Wales has begun legal action over the government’s decision to increase some court fees by more than 600 per cent.

The Law Society has issued a pre-action protocol letter, the first stage in seeking a judicial review challenging a decision to increase the fee to issue proceedings for the recovery of money to five per cent of the value of the claim for all claims over £10,000. The court fees affect cases involving debts owed to small businesses as well as personal injury and clinical negligence claims.

Under the new regime, announced last month, the fee to issue proceedings to recover £50,000 would go up from £815 to £2,500 and for £150,000 it would soar from £1,115 to £7,500. The maximum fee to issue proceedings will be set at £10,000, the fee payable to issue a claim for £200,000.

Data gathered from nearly 200 solicitors suggested that the total value of cases brought by individuals would fall by around one-third (35 per cent) under higher court fees and for small and medium-sized companies would almost halve (a 49 per cent decrease).

Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: “State provision for people to redress wrongs through the courts is the hallmark of a civilised society. The government’s policy on ‘enhanced court fees’ amounts to a flat tax on those seeking justice.

“The government’s hikes – due to come in from April – will price the public out of the courts and leave small businesses saddled with debts they are due but unable to afford to recover.”

The grounds on which the Law Society is challenging include the government not having the power to raise fees for the purposes it stated in its consultation on the proposal – to make departmental savings.

The Law Society also says that consultees were not told how much money needed to be raised from enhanced fees or why, a breach of the government’s own consultation principles, and that the government is proceeding without evidence to justify the increases.

Other professional organisations signing the letter include the Bar Council, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, the Forum of Insurance Lawyers, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, the Motor Accident Solicitors Society, the Chancery Bar Association, Action Against Medical Accidents and the Commercial Bar Association.