Personal injury claimants penalised by increased court fees

Personal injury claimants suffer again with court fee increase – The recent introduction of increased court fees (effective from 9th March 2015) was just the latest round of changes brought in at the cost of injured claimants seeking to recover damages for the negligence of others.

However, the Government has now announced proposals to further increase these fees with the maximum fee being increased from £10,000 to £20,000.

The Ministry of Justice brought in a 5% levy on all claims worth over £10,000. A claimant now has to pay £2,500 to start a court claim if their case is worth £50,000.  Previously, they would have incurred a fixed fee of £610.

In other cases, the court fee has increased by up to 660%.  These increases are a clear attempt to tax claimants rather than a genuine reflection of the court costs of administering a claim.  The court process of issuing a claim is an administrative one and there is no difference in the time and resources required by the court to issue a claim whether it be worth £10,000 or £100,000.

The Government has confirmed that it is seeking to raise extra revenue at the cost of claimants and arguments to justify the exorbitant increases have been based on the premise that the commencement of a court claim is an ‘optional activity’ for claimants.

This is simply not true. Claimants often have no choice but to bring a claim, for example, where the defendant refuses to act reasonably, advances a weak defence or fails to deal with a claim quickly enough thereby requiring the court claim to be started before the end of the limitation period (usually 3 years from the accident date).

These court fee increases will undoubtedly make it harder for claimants to pursue defendants through the court system and will thereby reduce their access to justice.

The Law Society, alongside other parties, has applied for a Judicial Review of the Government’s actions to be undertaken. However, it remains to be seen as to whether such action has any material effect. The fact that previous Judicial Reviews concerning other recent legal reforms have been successful but ultimately ineffective as most of the reforms have simply been reintroduced following further ‘consultation’. Law Society article about fee increases.

Following the raft of legal reforms in this area over recent years, which have included abolishing the claimant’s right to recover all costs from the defendant when successful and removing strict liability for an employer’s breach of health and safety legislation, this latest move is yet further proof that the rights and needs of individual claimants are not a priority when massive cuts and savings are top of the agenda.

However, this move, along with many other recent reforms, is based on a false economy. The Ministry of Justice has failed to take into account the fact that the majority of cases taken to court by personal injury claimants succeed and, in successful cases, the defendant then has to reimburse the claimant for the court fee. Therefore, all successful cases against the NHS and local government will result in the Government actually incurring the cost of the increased court fees.

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