HOGMANAY heralds further outrage for Scottish lawyers and court users over additional rises in court fees, including a half-hourly fee rate for the High Court.
Both the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Consumer Council will lobby MPs on what the latter describes as “a further erosion of the Scottish civil justice system”.
The swingeing hikes are in the Court of Sessions, Scotland's High Court, and will effect the costs of personal injury plaintiffs as well as commercial users.
Increased court costs to personal injury plaintiffs will inevitably have to be paid for out of the legal aid fund, says the society.
Bruce Richie, a society deputy secretary, says the society remains opposed to the increases, which form the second stage of a three-part plan to make litigants pay for the cost of the courts and judges' salaries.
Increases in the first phase, pushed through Parliament without debate, came in last year with Sheriffs' Court fee rises of up to 1,000 per cent (The Lawyer 15 February).
Richie says that the Government's claim that the fee increases stand at an average 15 per cent fails to take account of new charges. Total fees for divorce cases, for example, are up by 75 per cent.
He says: “Most dramatic of all is that in cases going to hearings court time will now be charged, for the first time, at u12 per half hour. The legal aid fund will have to pay the court dues for personal injury cases, therefore reducing the amount available for legal advice.”
Society council member John Newall says that his research shows “absolutely horrifying results, with increases ranging between 99 per cent and 347 per cent”.
Scottish MPs will use Newall's research to help lobby against the hikes.
The Scottish Consumer Council has attacked the rises.
Its director Ann Foster says of the rise: “We are deeply concerned about the introduction of charging for hearings on a time basis.
“The Court of Session is Scotland's most senior civil court, and the litigants who have to use it should not be put under this kind of pressure just to cut corners.”