The Government has been accused of attempting to profit from injured people and putting a “tax on justice” after a hike in the cost of issuing some civil court claims came into force.
Anyone attempting to claim more than £10,000 through the civil courts will now have to pay five per cent of the value of the claim, subject to a maximum fee capped at £10,000.
Lawyers opposing the change say it amounts to a 600 % increase on the current charging structure and will deny justice to injury victims and hit small to medium sized businesses who may not be able to afford to recover debts they are owed.
However the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) says it will not affect 90 per cent of cases and waivers will be available for those who cannot afford to pay.
It is intended that it will raise £120m – cash which will go towards and repairing the crumbling infrastructure of many courts.
The Law Society has already begun legal action in an attempt to force a judicial review over the move which it said would affect debts owed to small businesses as well as personal injury and clinical negligence claims.
Anthony McCarthy, a director of Macks Solicitors, in Middlesbrough, said:
“To issue a £190,000 claim last Friday would have cost £1,315.
“To do it today costs £9,500. That is a massive 622 per cent increase.
“This is an attempt by the Government to profit from injured people and those who are recovering business debts in order to fund the infrastructure of the courts.”
Mr McCarthy said debtors would be far less likely to pay up if they thought their creditor could not afford the court fees.
In a House of Lords debate last week justice minister Lord Foulks said litigation was “very much an optional activity“.
“There is no logic or sense in this. It is a terrible decision that has been criticised by litigators across the board.”
Justice Minister Shailesh Vara said it was only fair that those who could afford to pay should contribute more in fees to ease the burden on hardworking taxpayers.
“Court fees are a small fraction of the overall cost of litigation and Britain’s reputation for having the best justice system in the world remains intact.”
Source – Northern Echo, 10 Mar 2015
Legal aid cuts have led to an alarming number of people having to represent themselves in family courts in the North East.
The proportion of unrepresented North East parents attending court to contest custody of their children and other family matters has leapt from 34% to 53% of litigants since the removal of legal aid from family lawyers in April 2013.
Between April and December 2012, 4,698 people represented themselves at North East courts for child-related proceedings.
In the same nine-month period for 2013, the figure jumped to 7,562. This is a year-on-year rise of 61%; the highest in England and already more than the previous year’s total of 6,502.
Publication of the Ministry of Justice figures, secured via a Freedom of Information request, has sparked a call among some of the region’s lawyers to keep warring parents away from the courts.
Seven law firms in Newcastle currently offer a fixed-fee service which offers couples a way of resolving disputes without the need to go to court.
Sue McArthur, a lawyer at Newcastle-based firm McKeag and Co, said: “The massive increase in people representing themselves is leading to huge delays at court as judges struggle to help people representing themselves understand the proceedings and what is happening.
“Often people find that decisions go against them because they’ve not been able to refer the judge to the relevant legal points of their case. They can end up getting too emotional or angry and not presenting their case in the best possible way.
“To respond to this crisis in representation the legal industry is having to completely rethink how best to serve clients.”
Marc Lopatin, founder of LawyerSupportedMediation.com said: “The answer is not putting lawyers back in the courtroom at the public’s expense. Instead, the government should be doing all it can to encourage lawyers and mediators to work in tandem. This is the only way to make available the support parents need at a price most can afford.”
But The Law Society – which represents solicitors in the UK – says removing solicitors from the process will have a knock-on effect on children whose parents are fighting in court.
Law Society president Nicholas Fluck said: “The legislation, which came into force last April, could easily cost more than it is intended to save.
“As well as all the knock-on costs to the tax payer and the social consequences of severely limiting access to legal aid, it is the couples fighting in court and their children who will be the worst hit.
“Removing solicitors from the process and cutting access to justice for people on low incomes is a devastating false economy.
“As we have also outlined to the Justice Select Committee, the reality is that solicitors steer separating couples away from the courts and towards alternatives such as mediation.
“The Law Society has previously suggested alternative savings that would make a bigger contribution to reducing the deficit by making the civil justice system more efficient, but the Government chose to ignore this.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 07 June 2014