As my blog so far has not been what you might called “light hearted”, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to inject a little levity into it.
And this letter from Chris Grayling, Lord Chancellor has provided that opportunity.
For any not familiar with the recent 600% Court Fee rises, I have already written about the hypocrisy demonstrated by the Government in implementing these rises, and I have also written about Justice Minister Lord Faulks’ comments that “litigation is an optional activity“, which of course is great news for those who face losing their business, or life in a wheelchair.
It seems however that the Lord Chancellor, having instigated the highest Court Fee rise in British History (maybe even in world history), by a long way, has now decided, for some reason which is not clear (until you remember that there is an election in a month’s time), to offer the olive branch of a possible review of his monumental Court Fee rises.
So, raise fees by up to 600% seven weeks after they first announce the idea. Then offer a month later to keep them under review.
The obvious question that arises from this is, does he now believe the decision to implement the fee rises was wrong?
Everyone knows that the Court Fee rises of 600% don’t pose any risk to access to justice – Justice Minister Shailesh Vara said so. As the minister also said, this is a “sensible measure”. Of course it is!
So why the need to keep them under review?
Maybe the MOJ is not quite as sure of their facts as they initially seemed to be. Let’s look at the letter.
It says that the scheme has only been in place for a short period of time so far, and it’s not possible to judge whether there will be any impact. Technically true. However, if the Government suddenly decided to increase the cost of iPads by 600%, and announced “we’ve decided to increase the price of an iPad from £400 to £2400; there’s no evidence of any impact yet, but we will keep matters under review in case guidance needs to be tightened in “exceptional circumstances”, the public would be pleased, right? It’s a “sensible measure”. And obviously no rational person would jump to the completely irrational conclusion, without solid evidence, that iPads were now wildly overpriced, and wouldn’t touch Apple with a barge pole. People would continue buying them at the 600% inflated price, until the Government had gathered sufficient evidence of an impact. Right? Of course they would.
And for those societal “exceptions” who could not afford to find £2,400 for their iPad (or £10,000 for the Court Fee that may save their business or their livelihood), they have the comfort of knowing that the fee rise may be reviewed in “exceptional circumstances”. Are those the same exceptional circumstances as are now applied to Legal Aid applications (1500 applications; 69 successful)? If so, I won’t be holding my breath for the review.
He also says in the letter, that there are arrangements in place to help people bring “these sorts of claims”, which he states are CFAs (no-win, no-fee contracts) and ATE insurance.
Firstly, what “sorts of claims”? Do the increased Court Fees apply to only one type of claim? Please clarify Mr Grayling, as I must have missed that part of the press release.
Secondly, he is saying that solicitors or After the Event insurers (ATE) should stump up the hugely increased Court fees. Well, true, that is what normally happens. But two years after the Government dramatically cut solicitors’ fees, and also introduced Costs Budgeting for larger claims (a process which is proving to achieve nothing more than to generate massive amounts of extra work for claimants, and to provide defendants with a pre-trial opportunity to reduce the claimant’s costs – effectively, a “practice shot”), they now propose asking solicitors to carry up to 600% more in Court Fee disbursements for two to three years!
Really? How much more can the Claimant solicitor business model take?
He also says that “many of your concerns are addressed by the current fee remission scheme”. So if I’m following that correctly, a scheme which allows some claimants who claim benefits remission from Court Fees, will help people cope with a 600% rise in Court Fees. So how will that scheme help seriously injured claimants who are not on benefits? And how will such a scheme help small businesses who have already suffered a significant financial loss?
It is tempting, as has so often been the case over the last couple of years, to think that he is so appallingly misguided in his policies because he is not a lawyer, and has no idea of the effect of such changes at the coal face.
Or maybe his boss has simply told him that there’s an election coming, and to knock out a few lines to keep the punters happy?
Or maybe the letter is just an early April Fool. One way or another, the answer will present itself tomorrow.
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