The Government have announced plans for truly staggering increases in the cost of issuing court proceedings which could have an extremely detrimental impact on access to justice.
The proposed increases, likely to take effect from 9th March 2015, will be of particular concern to small businesses and individuals bringing civil litigation proceedings. Lawyers who act for claimants and defendants, the judiciary and the Civil Justice Council are for once speaking with one voice against the planned rises.
A civil claim for £12,000 would see a court fee increase of almost a third under the new proposals, and the fee for a claim of £200,000 for a serious injury would be 560% higher than at present.
The head of Osbornes’ Catastrophic Injury Department, Ben Posford, has profound concerns for seriously injured claimants and the wider implications for the rule of law.
“The purpose of an effective system for justice in a civilized society is not to turn a profit for the Government, but to permit every citizen, from the richest to the poorest, access to the courts to seek a remedy in law where sensible attempts at compromise have failed.
“This is especially the case where a severely injured person finds themselves unable to work and requires a lifetime of care through no fault of their own. Such claims, often involving severe brain or spinal cord injuries, loss of limbs, or the killing of a loved one, typically attract the highest court fee for issuing proceedings. Under current proposals, that court fee would increase from just under £2,000 to a jaw-dropping £10,000.
“Whilst Osbornes makes arrangements for claimants to fund these fees without having to pay for them upfront, such grotesque increases will inevitably drive up the cost of insurance for the wider public and businesses alike, and for those unfortunate claimants who are unable to obtain sufficient legal expenses insurance cover this represents a significant bar to anyone but the most wealthy needing to seek redress through the courts.
“If a person or a business has a right to seek justice, but the cost of doing so becomes prohibitively high, then in reality they have no access to justice at all.
“Statistically, everyone in the UK brings a personal injury claim at least once in their lifetime, and a small but significant number of those people will suffer a life-changing injury. It behoves everyone to campaign against these court fee proposals, for which the Government thus far has given no rational argument.”
To read the written statement made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Minister for the Courts and Legal Aid (Mr Shailesh Vara) released on 16 January 2015, please click here.
Ben Posford comments: “The Minister argues that the enhanced court fees are fair for those “who choose to litigate in our courts”, but no one “chooses” to suffer a severe personal injury caused by another person’s negligence, let alone find themselves forced to pursue reasonable compensation through the courts. They deserve access to justice without fear of financial ruin.”
Osbornes is a member of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), a not-for-profit organisation which campaigns for the rights of injured people. APIL is lobbying the Government to rethink the proposed rises.