This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
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Detail of outcome
The consultation Court Fees: Proposals for reform was in two parts. Part one, entitled ‘Cost recovery’ set out proposals to recover close to the full cost of the civil court system through fees, transferring more of the cost to the user and reducing the cost to the general taxpayer. Part two, ‘Enhanced charging’, proposed setting some fees above cost to better reflect the value of those proceedings to the court user.
This document sets out the Government’s response to the cost recovery proposals set out in part one of the consultation. A response to the enhanced charging proposals set out in part two of the consultation will be published in due course.
Part 2 response
Having listened to the concerns of those who responded to the consultation proposals, the government has decided not to implement the proposed increase to the fee for a divorce, or either of the options for charging higher fees for commercial proceedings.
This has not, however, changed the financial imperative to increase income to the courts from fees. This government response therefore also seeks views on proposals for raising fee income from possession claims and general applications in civil proceedings.
Under the proposals contained in this consultation paper, those using the civil court system would, in future, be expected to meet the cost of the service where they can afford to do so, and for certain types of proceeding would be expected to contribute more than the cost. Fee remissions will continue to be provided for those who qualify, so that access to justice is not denied.
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The courts play a vital role in our democracy. They provide access to justice for those who need it, help to maintain social order and support the proper functioning of the economy.
- deal with those accused of committing crimes, acquitting the innocent and convicting and punishing the guilty;
- provide the right environment for business and commerce to flourish, giving people the confidence to enter into business safe in the knowledge that the commercial arrangements they agree will be recognised and enforced by the courts; and
- deal with matters affecting families, from protecting children at risk of harm to making arrangements for couples who are separating.
For many years, users have been charged fees to access the civil court system, which includes all civil, family and probate jurisdictions, as well as the Court of Protection and the Court of Appeal (Civil Division).
The power to charge fees in the civil court system of England and Wales is set out in a number of pieces of legislation, including the Courts Act 2003 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005. When setting fees in the civil court system, the Lord Chancellor is required to have regard to the principle that access to justice must not be denied.
In recent years, the government’s policy has been to set fees on the basis of full cost recovery: that is, the use of fee income to recover the full cost of the court system, minus the cost of the remissions system (fee waivers). However, until now, the courts have been operating at less than full cost recovery, which has diverted resources from other areas of operations.
It is critical that the courts are properly funded if they are to continue to provide access to justice whilst contributing to the ongoing development of a more efficient, modernised court service.
At the same time, the government has made reducing the fiscal deficit a top priority, in order to set the economy on course for growth. Under the terms of its Spending Review settlement, the Ministry of Justice is required to reduce its annual spending by over £2.5 billion by 2014/15. The courts, and those who use them, must make a contribution to reducing public spending.
Achieving this outcome in this environment involves some difficult choices: there is a limit to how much can be achieved by those spending cuts alone.For these reasons, the government believes that it is preferable that those who can afford to pay should contribute more to the costs of the courts, so that access to justice is preserved and the cost to the taxpayer is reduced.