The Scandal of Court Fees

Courts Rake in Huge Profits from Court Fees – The Implications for Access to Justice

It seems that, following a huge hike in court fees last year, the Courts Service have made a very nice profit of just over £100 million, according to figures released in December 2017.

The family courts raked in £186 million…

Read the full report here

So, the family courts are responsible for the profits!  And then some…

Well, that’s one way to look at it.  You could take the view that if court fees were a little higher elsewhere, family courts could provide help to our children and us, for free…And, given that our children are surely the most important recipients of English justice, that would not be unreasonable, would it?  Particularly given that Legal Aid is not available.  And companies that want to sue each other could pay a bit more…

And then I woke up…

So, what does it all mean?

Well, if you add together the facts that Legal Aid is not available for us, and that court fees are so high, there will be a large number of TPs that are going to struggle getting access to justice, surely a pretty fundamental right in an advanced society.

Now, to be fair, you can get exemptions from court fees.  The eligibility criteria are

Savings

You need to have less than £3,000 in savings and investments if you’re under 61.

You can have up to £16,000 in savings if your fee is between £1,000 and £10,000, or if you or your partner are 61 and over.

Benefits

You need to be on a low income, or on one of the following benefits:

  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Income Support
  • Universal Credit (and you earn less than £6,000 a year)
  • Pension Credit (Guarantee Credit)
  • Scottish Civil Legal Aid (not Advice and Assistance, or Advice by Way of Representation)

Income

If you’re not on any of those benefits, you need to earn less than £1,085 a month before tax if you’re single, or £1,245 if you have a partner.

You can earn an extra £245 on top of that for each child you have.

For example, if you have a partner and 2 children you have to earn less than £1,735 to be eligible for help with court fees.

So, really, this will help some people, but there will remain a massive tranche of litigants that are too rich to qualify for exemptions, but too poor to fund the fees.  Hiked fees + no legal aid = a double whammy for us, and for justice. 

But the issue of access to justice is being looked into. The Bach Commission will explore establishing access to justice as a fundamental public entitlement.  Their interim report can be seen here.

On Legal Aid, the Commission says:

“In their submission to the Commission, the Law Society wrote that: “We re-affirm the philosophy behind THE CRISIS IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM IN ENGLAND AND WALES | 19 the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949 that nobody should be unable to enforce or defend a right for want of the advice and representation they need to do so effectively.” The Commission agrees. Legal aid plays an integral role in our justice system, enabling those who cannot afford to pursue claims and defend themselves privately to access legal help. The narrower scope of legal aid has seriously damaged the ability of the legal system to uphold the principle of equality under the law, and thus the rule of law itself.”

STOPPA will keep you posted…

Published by neopolitic

student

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