Fee rises make sense, says Lord Chancellor

The Lord Chancellor defended the recent increases in civil court fees last week, saying that continued subsidy of the courts would “distort choices” when looking at different ways of resolving disputes.

In a speech on the future of civil justice, made to guests of the Consumers Association, Lord Mackay said: “I believe that if the cost of the service falls on the parties before the court, rather that the hapless and absent taxpayer, all those involved in litigation, including the judges, will be much more careful to guard against unnecessary steps or costly delays.

“Charging the full cost also reinforces my strategy for ensuring that services are competitively priced.”

But representatives from the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux, Shelter and the Legal Action Group denounced the increases, saying they would reduce access to justice.

Vicki Chapman, policy officer at the Legal Action Group, said: “The fact remains that people already in desperate circumstances are being excluded form the courts.

“Far from creating a level playing field, the massive increases have tipped the balance in favour of the rich litigants such as insurance companies.

“It's interesting to note that both Australia and the US have looked specifically at court fees and concluded that it would be inappropriate to include judicial salaries in the fees met by court users.”

A man on income support is now attempting to challenge the legality of the increases, saying they have denied him the constitutional right of access to justice.

An application for judicial review was lodged by his solicitor Stephen Grosz, of Bindman & Partners, last week.