Bob Neill MP, justice committee chair, tells Legal Cheek that MPs will continue to push for full review
The thorny issue of court fees has come to the fore again. In a response published this week, the Ministry of Justice has DISMISSED concerns raised by the MP-based justice select committee in its report from June.
Neill says he’s disappointed by the MoJ’s meagre response:
We put forward a significant number of recommendations and it’s been a pretty scratchy response. The committee may well decide that it wants to push for more answers.
Neill (pictured top) also says that in any event, the committee will be pressuring the MoJ to deliver on its own full review of court fees:
This is long overdue given that the fees were introduced over three years ago. Surely good practice suggests that any new set of rules needs prompt follow-up work.
The committee’s report raised concerns that fees, such as those in employment tribunals, could be blocking access to justice. Back in 2013, the MoJ, under Chris Grayling’s stewardship, introduced new fees which hadn’t existed before: if someone wants to take action against their employer for unfair dismissal, say, this will now cost them £250 to issue a claim and £950 for the actual court hearing.
As the committee’s report highlights, since then, the number of cases in employment tribunals has dropped by 70%; unions and charities have cited the detrimental impact of fees on workers, on traditionally disadvantaged groups, and on pregnant women.
However, the government’s recent response to the committee’s concerns is that it is: “finalising the post implementation review of fees and the conclusions will be published in due course.”
The report also argued that money claims’ fees (which were increased to as much as £10,000 in 2015) were likely to make the UK legal sector uncompetitive internationally as other jurisdictions may become cheaper. Again, the government’s response is that it is: “currently undertaking research into the impact which will help to inform future decisions on the fees charged for these types of claim.”
It should be noted that the differences in opinion between the justice committee and the MoJ are probably more a matter of degree rather than principle. The committee does not have an inherent objection to fees because “a degree of financial risk is an important discipline for those considering legal action.” It’s more a matter of “what is an acceptable amount to charge, taking into account the need to preserve access to justice”.
So thanks, in part, to a ‘great’ Grayling policy, our embattled Lord Chancellor’s week looks set to get even worse.