14 September 2015
Court fee rise will give wealthy the upper hand, says
SMEs will be disadvantaged in chasing late payments from big
Wealthy individuals and big business will have the upper hand in
court proceedings if further increases in court fees get the go
ahead under plans announced by the Ministry of Justice, the Bar
Council has warned.
The Bar Council, which is the national representative body for
barristers in England & Wales, warned that the higher costs of
bringing court proceedings will cause a greater imbalance where one
party is wealthier than the other. The Bar Council says that the
richer party will have a stronger bargaining position in any
settlement negotiations, and could simply refuse to settle the
case, knowing that the weaker party would be unable afford to take
the case to court because of the high fees.
These problems will be faced by small businesses chasing late
payments from bigger business, warns the Bar Council. It will also
lead to an increase in the number of people attempting to represent
themselves in court.
Alistair MacDonald QC, chairman of the Bar, said: "It goes
against every principle of justice that one party should have an
unfair advantage over the other in a court case. Further court fee
rises will mean that wealthy individuals or businesses immediately
have an advantage if they find themselves facing a claim from
someone of limited means such as a small business facing cash-flow
problems, and that advantage will have nothing to do with the
merits of their case. The wealthier party is in a stronger
position. The poorer party is either priced out of court or makes
an attempt to represent themselves, which not only slows the court
process down, but leaves them in a weak position against the other
party in the case."
Following the introduction of new fees in March this year, the
cost of starting a case was 5% of the value of the claim.
This value was capped at £200,000 making the maximum fee payable
£10,000. One of the proposals is to remove this cap
entirely. By way of example, a family making a legitimate
claim against insurers for the value of their home, which could
easily exceed £600,000, would have to find at least £30,000 just to
launch court proceedings.
Alistair MacDonald QCadded: "Since March, anyone bringing a
money claim to court, whether that is for an injury or any other
valid reason, could face a fee of up to £10,000. That is bad
enough, but under these new proposals, court fees could be
unlimited. Very few individuals or small businesses have tens
of thousands of pounds sitting there in the petty cash box.
We opposed those initial court fee increases and we oppose these
too. The impact on access to justice of the original court fee rise
in March has still to be assessed, and yet further rises are
already being proposed. It is not even clear yet if the
initial increases have raised any extra revenue. The very
least that the Government should have done was to wait until the
full effects of the earlier rises had been evaluated. By
rushing into the proposals for even higher fees, the risk is that
an even greater number of worthy claimants will be denied access to
justice without any benefit to the Treasury."
The Bar Council has responded to these and other issues in its
response to the Ministry of Justice's Consultation on Further Fees
Notes to Editors
Further information is available from the Bar Council Press
Office on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.
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through the independent Bar Standards