Monday, 2 March 2015

Court Fees Hike

Court fees are due to rise dramatically and, it seems, very soon.

There can be no doubt that this will make it much more difficult for people who have suffered avoidable serious injury due to clinical negligence to obtain access to justice.

Obviously claimants seeking compensation for injury, loss and damage, are more likely to be struggling financially. They may be unable to work. They may face bills for care and equipment. To find an additional £10,000 to exercise the "right"to bring a claim for compensation will be difficult. In some cases it will not be possible - justice denied.

If claimants are represented, should their lawyers pay the fees? I am not sure why that should be expected. Would your builder to pay all your planning and building regulations application fees himself? And what about the small and medium sized businesses so beloved of politicians. Suppose a law firm has 50 cases worth £200,000 or more in damages - where are they meant to obtain £0.5 million in court fees? How will they possibly manage their cash flow?

The idea may be that litigants or their lawyers should enter into complex financial/insurance arrangements to borrow money up front simply to pay fees for the court system to process their claims. But those arrangements do not come cost free nor risk free.

And what will you get for your £10,000? The court staff work very hard but many of them would be the first to admit that they are unable due to constraints to provide a Rolls Royce service. Stories are legion of papers not being put before the Judge, forms going missing, courts being double-booked. Litigants might start to demand more for their money. Or perhaps people will start to by-pass the court system altogether. It would be odd for the Ministry of Justice to want people to give up on the justice system.

Bringing a claim for substantial compensation is not really a choice in many cases. It is a necessity. I wonder what proportion of clinical negligence claims conclude with an award of compensation less than the amount offered to the claimant before proceedings were commenced? Very few I would have thought. In every case where a greater sum is recovered after issuing proceedings than was previously offered, it was reasonable and necessary to bring the proceedings and to incur the court fees.

If a claimant succeeds in the claim then they will recover the issue fee from the defendant. So the NHS will end up paying £millions more in costs. The NHS will be subsidising the Ministry of Justice. And we know who will get the blame for the rising cost to the NHS of litigation - yes, those greedy lawyers.

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