JUSTICE responded to the Ministry of Justice consultation on introducing further fees in the courts and tribunals. Chief amongst our concerns are: a 10% uplift on all court fees in civil proceedings other than those already increased above cost; an increase to the maximum fees payable in civil claims, from £10,000 to at least £20,000 (potentially unlimited); and the doubling of fees in Immigration and Asylum.
JUSTICE considers that the consultation proposals risk denying many court and tribunal users effective access to justice. The Ministry of Justice proposals do not appear to be based on any evidential analysis of the likely effect of these proposals and, indeed, past fee increases, on access to justice, particularly for those with more limited means. JUSTICE notes, in that regard that the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunal in July 2013 appears to have resulted in a drop in the number of claims by 81%. In the light of such a dramatic decrease in claims, the Ministry of Justice cannot rule out the very real possibility that fees are denying applicants with meritorious claims access to justice.
JUSTICE submitted that, without a proper evidence based approach, the Government is at real risk of breaching the principle under section 92 (3) of the Courts Act 2003 that access to justice must not be denied as well as breaching the common law right of access to the courts (and tribunals) and, where applicable, Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
JUSTICE also considers the Ministry of Justice’s proposals to be premature since they fail to take into consideration evidence that might become available following the Ministry of Justice’s own evaluation of the effect of fees in the Employment Tribunal and the inquiry currently being undertaken by the Justice Select Committee into court and tribunal fees and charges. JUSTICE urged the Government to, at the very least, await the outcome of both investigations so as to enable it to undertake a proper evidence based approach in assessing the impact of their proposals on access to justice.