Court fees row reveals huge rift between government and judiciary

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By Katie King on

It’s the worst it’s ever been


It’s a case of lawyers vs politicians today, as a debate about civil court fees saw the government slammed by three of the country’s most senior judges.

Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, family division boss Sir James Munby, and the senior president of tribunals, Sir Ernest Ryder, took to the stage this morning to give evidence before the Justice Committee about enhancing court fees — and they had an awful lot to say.

Slapping wannabe litigants with fees is not new, but it’s the ever-increasing rate of these fees that has got people talking.

The government is now looking at, once again, upping the fee rate for claimants in the civil courts, by as much as double in some cases. Criticisms of the proposal have been plodding along since it was unveiled, and today was the turn of the judiciary to get in on the squabble.

Unsurprisingly, the three judges unanimously slammed the government’s proposals — but it was the level of disagreement that caught our attention. The Law Society Gazette went as far as to say that they couldn’t remember a time that the judiciary had expressed such strong views on government policy, at least in recent years.

And it was Dyson that stole the show.

In a scathing attack on government policy, he claimed that the government has not taken seriously the “real dangers” of enhancing court fees. He agreed that the fee increases introduced last year have impeded access to justice, and — speaking about the recent 10% increase — he said:

You have a bad situation and you are making it a little bit worse. If the figure to which you are adding the increase is too high you are making it that much worse.

Dyson is totally unconvinced that the government’s evidence and argument stands up to scrutiny. When asked if the judiciary has seen a careful analysis of the fees and their effects, Dyson replied that they have seen nothing.

The legal Twitterati’s reaction to the bust-up has been predictable. Siding with the judiciary, lawyers have taken to social media to praise Dyson and co for putting the government in its place.

But will the government listen?

Further listening

Top legal commentator Carl Gardner popped down to Legal Cheek HQ to share his thoughts about rising court fees.