It appears so. The MoJ have published a consultation on Court fees. Long time readers of this blog will know my rather low opinion of consultations (they are a way of breaking bad news to people whilst pretending that “your view can make a difference”)
And any consultation on Court fees normally means one thing – they’re going up, stand still whilst the MoJ mugs you. It is so tiresome for the MOJ if you wriggle about whilst they go through your pockets and wallet.
This one, it appears not
Please send your response by 21/01/14 to:
Graeme Cummings Ministry of Justice Law and Access to Justice Group Post Point 4.38 102 Petty France London SW1H 9AJ
Tel: (020) 3334 4938
Fax: (020) 3334 2233
[Might actually be worth doing that, this time]
Here are some good news items from it (good news, from an MoJ consultation on fee changes, you can see why I am baffled)
Removing the fee from Non-molestation or Occupation order applications (currently £75). Given what a palaver getting the fee-exemption was, many people ended up just paying the fee, and it always seemed wrong to me that people should have to pay a fee to get protection from domestic violence.
The fee for any application in Children Act cases (other than s31) is now just £215, same across the board. No more looking up in a chart to try to work out just what the bloody fee is for those applications that you hardly ever make. It’s just a standard fee across the board. That’s gone up a bit (£35) for most of the applications.
And here’s the odd one – you may recall that the fee for issuing care proceedings went up several thousand per cent – from about £175 to over £5,000, and went up again in April.
The lie / spin at the time was that this was completely cost-neutral and would be covered by central government funding and that it was not an attempt to artificially depress care proceedings or provide a financial incentive for Local Authorities not to place cases before the Court. You may recall a judicial review that didn’t succeed, and then all the various reports saying “these fees should be abolished”. If the fees ever were cost-neutral, which almost anyone in local government would dispute, they certainly aren’t now, as central funding has been salami sliced over many years. Those court fees represent a significant drain on public authorities limited resources.
The current arrangement is that the LA pay the court a fee of £3,320 up front, and then a further fee of £2,155 if there’s a final hearing.
Well, I immediately look for that section, to see how much care proceeding court fees are going to go up by, and see the proposals are :-
Flat fee on issue to change from £3,320 to £2,000 (yes, that’s actually gone DOWN)
Fee for final hearing to change from £2,155 to £0 (yes, that’s actually nothing)
This is something of a climb-down – I mean, it’s not the recommendation of the Laming report, the Plowden report or the Family Justice Review (all of which the Government said in advance they would implement in full) that the fees be scrapped entirely, but it’s a START.
I couldn’t find anything within the consultation document that was a rationale for this reduction, so I went to the public attitude survey here
in which people were surveyed about court fees and given some hypothetical examples to set fees for. (There are some interesting things, more useful for private law, about public attitudes towards fairness of the court system)
[I did this exercise because if I see a gift horse, the first thing I DO is look in its mouth. It is nonsensical advice to say “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” – the story comes from the Trojan War, and OF COURSE the Trojans should have been wary about the gift horse…]
Anyway, there’s nothing in that either. In any event, thank you MoJ for a consultation document that made me happy rather than miserable. Let’s see if it translates into action.
(That’s potentially a lot of money that can be spent on services to help and support troubled families, so it is not just good news for Local Authorities, but for real people too)