The Government’s policy remains that court fees should generally be set to reflect (on average) the cost of the service provided. Where they can afford to do so, it is right that litigants using the civil courts, rather than the taxpayer, should meet the cost. This ensures that the taxpayers’ contribution to the cost of the civil and family courts is focussed on funding the cost of the system of fee exemptions and remissions, in order to ensure that less well-off citizens are not denied access to justice. Setting fees generally at levels lower than the full cost would mean that corporations and other wealthy litigants would benefit from taxpayers contribution – increasing cost and putting pressures on other budgets like legal aid.
This year, we plan to undertake two major reviews as the next steps in delivering this strategy.
The first will be a fundamental review of the system of exemptions and remissions to ensure that it adequately protects access to justice and is operated consistently. This review will be overseen by a steering group of stakeholders, including representatives of the Civil and Family Justice Councils, which I will chair.The second will review the structure of the system, that is the points at which fees are charged. The key objective will be to achieve a closer match of income and cost drivers, in particular through the introduction of trial fees. This is necessary both to make the system fairer as between different types of litigant, and make it easier to ensure that cost and funding remain in balance as workload changes. This review will also consider the various specific suggestions for changing the fee structure raised by respondents to consultation.