There is “strong justification” for increasing 129 court fees by inflation, backdated to 2016, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has said.
The MoJ said 61% of the respondents to its consultation on the issue opposed the increase, but the income thresholds for the Help with Fees (HwF) scheme would also be increased by inflation.
The new fees across the civil, family and magistrates’ courts, as well as the Court of Protection, are expected to raise an additional £13m to £20m for HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), bearing in mind the increased cost of HwF.
The proposal was limited to fees which were under-recovering compared to the estimated cost of the service, and those fees which were enhanced, meaning they can be set above cost price.
“The government believes there is a strong justification to proceed with increasing certain court fees and the HwF income thresholds by inflation,” the MoJ said.
“The proposed increases reflect historic inflation and are therefore not an increase in real terms.”
The MoJ said it appreciated that Covid-19 “has had an impact on individuals and businesses” but HwF was available for those who were unemployed or receiving benefits as a result of the pandemic.
“The government appreciates that some users might sometimes be frustrated by the service they receive. Whilst, like the whole nation, the courts and tribunals have been affected by the pandemic, recovery is our priority.
“Far from HMCTS profiting from these fee increases; they simply represent the increase in the cost of providing the services.”
The MoJ said the net fee income of HMCTS was £724m in 2019/20, compared with the £2bn running costs of the civil and criminal courts.
Many of the respondents who disagreed with the increases argued that “this was not the right time to increase court fees due to the impacts of Covid-19” and would reduce access to justice, the response recounted.
Some of those who agreed with the concept of inflationary increases nevertheless “noted that now, during the pandemic, may not be the right time to implement these changes”.
Others “felt that the proposed increases were unjustifiable in relation to the quality of the service provided by HMCTS, citing concerns that the time taken to resolve a case was too slow”, while there were also arguments that further digitisation of the service was needed before fee increases could be justified.
“Conversely, some respondents claimed that increased digitisation had resulted in lower running costs and, therefore, fees should not be increased,” the MoJ observed.
The response said it was difficult to determine exactly how much raising a particular fee would impact on demand for that court process.
“The existing research is largely qualitative rather than quantitative. The research that does exist demonstrates that several factors influence the decision to take a case to court, such as access to legal representation, the availability of alternatives like mediation, case-type and the perceived benefit of the outcome compared to the cost.”
The MoJ said that “even allowing for initially lower volumes, we expect the proposed changes to increase fee income.”