On Monday 9 March, fees for civil court cases rose by 600 per cent, presenting a very real obstacle to accessing justice. Anyone who wishes to sue their employer for breaches of employment contracts or for sustaining personal injuries will now be subject to an upfront charge of 5 per cent of their claim – should their claim be submitted to a civil court. This charge applies if claims are for more than £10,000.
The measure has received widespread criticism from lawyers and judges including the Law Society. During an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday 9 March, Lord Pannick QC, crossbench peer in the House of Lords called the reforms “inappropriate and unjust.” Pannick argued that “The government should not be making money out of people who need to go to court.”
Lord Pannick noted that the Lord Chief Justice himself said that the fee hike will impede access to justice. Pannick went on to say that “we’re celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta which said ‘To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice’. This is precisely what the government is now doing.”
Calling the reforms a “tax on justice”, Lord Pannick pointed out that “the real vice is that if you are claiming between £10,000 and £200,000 many small businesses, people who have suffered personal injuries or their children have suffered personal injuries, that’s the sort of money that they’re claiming. They won’t have access to justice”
The fees also follow swingeing cuts to civil legal aid, such that there has been a huge rise in litigants representing themselves. Alistair MacDonald QC, Chair of the Bar Council, who represent barristers in England and Wales, reflected in a recent Guardian article,”the government knows this…[rise in court fees]…will stop some people from using the law to seek the redress they need. Litigants in person are also appearing in increasing numbers…These fees will make it that bit harder for people to navigate the system.”
The hike in civil court fees means that many people will need disposable capital of between £5,000 and £10,000, just to get through the door of the court. Lord Pannick also noted that the increase in fees means that “unscrupulous debtors, who know that their creditors can’t afford to take them to court, simply won’t pay up.”
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