A few days could make all the difference for those involved in issuing civil claims in the courts of England and Wales. If you sue someone this week and claim £200,000, you will have to pay a court fee of £1,515. On Monday, that fee goes up to £10,000. So expect a busy Friday.
We knew this was coming, of course. I wrote in January about planned fee increases of up to 600%. Owen Bowcott explained the background earlier this week. However, the story bears closer analysis because of what it tells us about the attitude of the political parties and the role of parliament.
Asking the House of Lords to approve the increased charges in a debate on Wednesday night, Lord Faulks, the justice minister, referred to them as “enhanced fees”, which he defined as “fees that are set above the costs of the proceedings to which they relate”. This is surely government doublespeak: the normal meaning of enhance is to improve or intensify — not merely to increase.
Faulks reminded the dozen or so peers who were in chamber that parliament had given the lord chancellor the power to prescribe fees above costs in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. He argued that the increases would bring in a much-needed £120m for the courts.
Labour did not force a vote on the issue. From the front bench, Lord Beecham merely urged the government to examine the implications of their proposals in greater detail. In a Commons committee last month, Andy Slaughter MP said there was “nothing fundamentally objectionable” in increasing fees beyond full cost recovery.