A MASSIVE eight-fold increase in House of Lords court fees, including a brand new £500 fee just for petitioning for leave to appeal, come into effect next Wednesday.
The new fee structure will take the average cost of fees in an appeal case to £4,500. The scale of this rise overshadows the 9 per cent average rise in court fees for family proceedings and in the civil courts, due for 30 October.
Critics of the fee hikes have won some concessions, but concerns remain about the extra costs to litigants and, particularly in the case of the Lords, possible restrictions on access to justice.
Suzanne Burn, secretary to the Law Society civil litigation committee, said: "The level of increase in the Lords is far too high but I'm afraid they're going ahead."
Worse still could be government plans for daily fees in the County and High Court of £200-£500, and other fee "restructuring" to be proposed later this year, Burn warned.
Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay, in his role as Senior Lord of Appeal, won backing in the Lords for a standing order to protect poorer non-legally aided litigants, after Lords voiced concerns.
Lord Mackay's standing order gives the appeal committee "power to waive, modify or suspend such fees, either wholly or in part" where a litigant has been refused legal aid and would "suffer financial hardship".
Lord Mackay said the order arose from concerns expressed by Lords that the new fees could deter appellants.
Lord Lester QC, slamming the increases as "truly astronomical," welcomed Lord Mackay's order but questioned whether it went far enough.
Mackay supported Lester's call for the Law Lords to cut down on the House of Lords' complex judicial procedure, and reduce litigants' legal costs.
On the fee increases for family proceedings and civil courts, notably the doubling to £80 for a divorce petition and the £20 rise to £120 for a High Court writ, Burn said: "Some individual rises are a bit excessive but we are more concerned about the restructuring of court fees."