A cavalier approach to justice

March 10th, 2015

The general election may be fast approaching, but this Conservative-led government is continuing to do damage. This will be apparent in the legal system as Chris Grayling’s assault on the justice system continues apace, with the anticipated rise in fees for civil proceedings soon coming into force. In the dryly named Civil Proceedings and Family Proceedings Fees (Amendment) Order 2015, fees for issuing a claim will now be five per cent if the claim is valued at between £10,000 and £200,000. To give an example of what this means in practice, if your claim is valued at £40,000 you face an increase in issue fees of 228 per cent which increases to an eye watering 622 per cent if the value of your claim is £190,000. Given that the value of a claim often bears little relation to the administrative burden to the court system, this is a naked assault on access to justice.

We already have an indication of the impact of this new fee regime following the introduction of employment tribunal fees. Since the introduction of fees, which range from £160 to £250 with a subsequent hearing fee of up to £950 if it proceeds all the way to a hearing, claims have fallen by just under 80 per cent. This has been lauded by Matthew Hancock, the minister for business, as cutting red tape. The cavalier attitude of this government to employment rights does not appear to be up for debate. Despite clear evidence that individuals are not able to enforce their basic employment rights, no review of the fees system has been promised. This is something an incoming Labour government has promised to do if elected on 7 May.

The irony of all of this is that just last week Chris Grayling appeared at the Global Law Summit in London last month as part of the celebrations of the 800th year of Magna Carta. In his opening speech he quoted one of the key provisions of the Magna Carta that has stood the test of time: ‘To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.’ He also acknowledged that the pedigree of the British legal system is such that its founding principles have influenced legal systems the world over. These fine words ring hollow when Grayling’s tenure at the Ministry of Justice has seen the most dramatic attack on access to justice in recent times.

With a Lord Chancellor who has no legal background, the importance of what he has and continues to do to the justice system is lost. He is a man who typifies the arrogance of the conservative led government’s swingeing cuts – they ‘know the price of everything and the value of nothing’. And in case you were interested, the ticket price to attend as a delegate to the Global Law Summit was £1,750, excluding VAT.

The sad truth is that criticisms of Grayling from the left are often seen as cries of self-preservation from lawyers. This is not the case. The dramatic increases in civil court fees will put access to the courts outside the reaches of many small traders and businesses. Those smaller businesses need access to the court system to ensure that unpaid debts and other similar disputes are resolved. These fees will put those remedies out of their hands as they face having to stump up significant amounts of cash upfront. The viability of these businesses is vital to our economic prosperity and these fees will hurt many.

The reality of fee increases is that they often create costs elsewhere in the system – unrepresented parties require longer and more costly hearings, businesses are no longer viable because they cannot enforce payment from debtors, those with personal injury claims become more dependent on the state as it is too expensive to pursue litigation – the list goes on.

Next week we will see a degradation of our legal heritage which should make us all sad, and all the more determined to fight for a Labour government in May.

This article was published by Progress on 9 March 2015.