lady justice

Courts and Tribunals Fees to increase 10 per cent

Posted on Wed, 03/04/2024

On the Tuesday immediately after the Easter break, the government slipped out its response to the recent consultation on raising selected courts and tribunals fees, see here.

Broadly speaking, the plan remains as before, with some 172 fees to be increased by 10 per cent, although a further 30 will not now go up as previously proposed.

The consultation itself received only 52 responses, rather few when you consider how important the courts are to civil society and the rule of law. The outcome also serves as a reminder than consultations are not referendums, as only around one in four respondents thought increasing the fees was a fair idea yet up they will go.

ACSO’s views are referred to in the response document. We questioned whether there would really be any value for money in the higher fees, with record court delays a reflection of the dysfunction in His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Services (HMCTS). We also queried whether the increased funding of £30-37m per year out of a total annual running cost of £2.3bn will actually be diverted towards the civil courts, or just swallowed up in the more politically attractive maw of criminal justice. Given that the sum raise might also be as low as 1.3 per cent of the total, it might be asked whether this is worthwhile at all. We recently made the same point in our response to the government’s ongoing consultation on re-introducing employment tribunal fees. However, in that case the likely challenge from the unions and others is more obvious, and hence more predictably expensive.

However, ACSO accepts that the needs of consumers as court users must be balanced with their rights as taxpayers and citizens. So while it is regrettable that fees must exist, in total they cover only around a third of the running costs of HMCTS so the balance is perhaps being struck. Again, the primary issue we would look to focus on is one of performance, not necessarily of price.

We questioned too why the government wanted an arbitrary increase of 10 per cent, when a CPI increase over the period used was 17.8 per cent but the generally accepted SPPI measure over the same would have been 9.1 per cent. The issue here is not necessarily one of fairness but simply one of consistency. The government should pick the right inflationary measure, in this case one they happily use for things like fixed recoverable costs levels, and stick with it.

In the event, it rejected SPPI because it claims this does not reflect overheads facing HMCTS such as staffing costs. In fact, even a cursory look at the ONS website would show this to be false, but it is likely instead that the government simply wanted to retain control over fees.

The new, higher fees are subject to a negative statutory instrument (which in effect means they will go through parliament ‘on the nod’) and will take effect from May 2024. Whether they will have any impact on service standards, or indeed on access to justice, and especially for the most vulnerable, will remain to be seen.