In July 2016, the Scottish government launched a consultation to seek the public's views on its proposals to raise court fees payable in Scottish courts. The stated purpose for any rise is to ensure that the fees raised in the courts cover the costs of conducting civil business in those courts. So in other words, the actual users of those services provided by the civil courts should be the ones who are liable to fund those services, not the Scottish taxpayers.
In order to achieve a full cost recovery of court fees, the consultation paper has proposed two possible approaches, which are:-
- A flat rise - increase all court fees by the same percentage across the board (which has been proposed at 24%); or
- Targeted increases - only selected fees will be increased.
It is estimated that a flat rise will result in £4.9m of additional income whereas the targeted increases will result in upwards to £6m of additional funds.
What will these proposals mean for court users?
As always, the devil is in the detail. For example, under small claims or simple procedure (as it is now to be known), the fee for lodging a claim will rise from £18 to £22 under a flat rise and remain the same under the targeted increase proposal- so not a large increase there.
However, for actions raised in the Court of Session, the proposed increases are markedly higher. For example, to lodge an action, the current fee of £214 will rise to £266 under the flat rise and to £300 under the targeted increase. When one considers that all fees for Court of Session actions are being proposed to be raised under the consultation, the added costs will quickly add up for court users.
A new economic reality or barrier to justice?
The courts are certainly not immune to the economic pressures of today. With an increasing workload and little appetite, at least from the government, to wholly fund civil litigation fees, it is inevitable that there will be fees payable in the civil courts. It should also be pointed out the civil legal fees do assist in preventing spurious claims from being raised and so they do serve a purpose over and above that of funding. However, these proposed increases have been labelled by some as a barrier to justice. These critics point to the recent fees introduced for employment claims where cases raised in front of Employment Tribunals have now fallen 75% since their introduction. Such a significant fall denotes a serious issue with people being able to afford bringing a claim and if that is indeed the case, there is a barrier to accessing justice. The obvious parallels are being drawn to the Scottish Government's proposals so it should be interesting to see whether these are adopted and, if so, to what extent.
The public is able to respond to the consultation until 12 October 2016.