The years 2015-16 saw quite a raft of increases to court fees, making the life of would-be claimants considerable more expensive. From April 2015, the cost to issue claims of £10,000 or more was raised to 5% of the claimed sum, dramatically increasing the initial money needed to launch larger claims (and whilst fees for small claims were unchanged, these were already over 5% of the claimed sum in many cases).
In March and April 2016, a variety of other fees were sharply increased, including ramping up the cost of making possession claims and that of making applications in court (a general purpose fee that sees wide and frequent use). Later in 2016, the cost of all enforcement action was also increased by 10%.
Court claims remain an ultimate recourse for the wronged, the right for people to seek redress against those who have injured or cheated them, refused to pay monies due or shirked their obligations. The increased fees now attending a wide variety of claims make obtaining justice in these situations that much more of a daunting prospect.
The latest proposal, to come into effect from 6 March 2017, is that hearing fees for civil claims will now no longer be refundable. Hearing fees vary from £25 for the smallest of small claims up to a current level of £1.090 for large claims, but under the current regime, if the case settles and the final hearing is not necessary then the hearing fee can be refunded.
This possibility of a refund is a factor in the parties reaching a settlement even with the final hearing looming, as at least part of the expense of litigation can be avoided. Historically, the philosophy behind court rules has been to encourage parties to reach a settlement wherever possible to avoid needing a time-consuming and expensive final hearing, This new change acts directly against past court policy by removing one incentive to prior to the final hearing. If the Claimant is wavering about coming to terms with the opposition, the fact that the final court fee is irrevocably committed will shift the balance towards simply ploughing on.
Also on the horizon, and currently in consultation, is an increase of the small claims limit for personal injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000. PI claims are traditionally more complex than most court claims, with even lower value claims requiring expert evidence. Claims of under £5,000 value make up a large proportion of PI claims, covering most minor injuries, simple breaks and whiplash. The new limit, which has been strongly argued for by insurers, will ensure that the cost of legal assistance will be irrecoverable in such claims, meaning that injured claimants will have to negotiate the minefields of legal procedure without help.