Much has been written about the increase in court fees recently imposed on court users, culminating in the March 2015 introduction of a £10,000 maximum fee for money claims. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the legal profession has spoken with one voice, denouncing the government’s reasoning and warning of dire consequences for access to justice.
What has been notable, and is to be welcomed, is the approach of the judiciary and the willingness of senior judges to speak out against these fee increases. In December 2014, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, wrote a letter to the Ministry of Justice on behalf of the senior judiciary (the Master of the Rolls, the President of the Queen’s Bench Division, the President of the Family Division, the Chancellor of the High Court and Lord Justice Richards (Deputy Head of Civil Justice)) that was widely publicised. This letter pulled no punches, using less than diplomatic language in stating that the judges had “seen the response of the Civil Justice Council, and [that they shared] the deep concerns it expresses” about the fee increases.
As someone who attends various court user groups in the High Court, I have also had first-hand experience of judges candidly expressing their obvious disagreement with such high court fees. Comments have come from masters, High Court judges and Court of Appeal judges alike. Their comments demonstrate that our judiciary, if not our politicians, understand that the courts are there for the users, and that a fair judicial system requires fairness not only in the judging, but in the provision of the service and access to justice.
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