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Friday 6th
posted by Conrad Landin in Britain

Government plans to increase court fees by a whopping five-fold increase will leave vulnerable without access to justice, warn solicitors

A LAST-MINUTE five-fold increase in court fees amounts to a “barrier to justice” for working people, leading lawyers warned last night.

From Monday, the maximum fee for court claims lodged at the County Court or High Court — including workers suing their bosses for injuries at work — will soar from £1,920 to £10,000.

The development follows the Con-Dem government’s introduction of employment tribunal fees, which has resulted in a whopping 80 per cent drop in workers taking their bosses to task.

The Law Society and the Bar Council have expressed strong opposition to the changes — which could themselves be challenged in the courts.

Lawyers said yesterday there was “no doubt” the new court fees would result in a “dramatic” fall in workplace grievances seeing their day in court.

Niamh O’Brady, a partner at trade union solicitors’ firm OH Parsons, told the Star: “Apart from those who are exempt, workers will be forced to pay these sums regardless of their means.

“How can that be right in circumstances when you’re trying to sue a wrongdoer?”

The government argues the increase is required to make up for a £120 million shortfall in the justice sector.

But Ms O’Brady said: “This is a regressive form of taxation — a flat tax on those who need access to justice.”

Under the new regime, all claims more than £10,000 will be subject to a 5 per cent levy to be paid up front, with a maximum fee of £10,000.

A claim for £150,000 costs £1,115 under previous rules, but would now soar to £7,500.

Successful litigants would recover the fees — but they would be left thousands of pounds short in the period before their case was heard, which is often up to two years.

The news will leave a particularly sour taste for construction workers whose work led to them contracting mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

Builders’ union Ucatt general secretary Steve Murphy said: “This is yet another opportunity to deny people justice.
“This government is systemically trying to remove any form of workplace justice step by step.
“They have been exposed as being in league with the insurance industry who will benefit from the expected reduction in future claims.”

At a House of Lords debate on Wednesday, opposition slammed Tory Justice Minister Lord Faulkes for describing litigation as an “optional activity.”

Crossbencher Lord Pannick, who proposed a “motion of regret” before withdrawing it, ridiculed the Tory’s statement as suggestive that justice was comparable to “a skiing holiday or a visit to a three-starred Michelin restaurant.”

“Litigation is often a necessity to keep your business alive or to maintain any quality of life,” he said.

And Labour peer Lord Howarth said the change “violated” the principle that “no-one should be prevented from bringing a reasonable case to court for lack of financial means.”

Law firms and housing charity Shelter had protested that it was unfair to refuse aid to claimants until a court had granted permission to hear the case.