The Law Society has claimed this week that Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s plans to hike some court fees by over 600% go against the principles of the Magna Carta.
After an independent governmental review by the Regulatory Policy Committee Review on 21st January found that his plans were “not fit for purpose”, the Law Society have gone one step further, arguing that his plans are tantamount to ‘selling justice.’
Plans to Raise Court Fees
The changes proposed by Grayling the and Ministry of Justice would see a spike in the costs of obtaining a divorce and other civil claims in an attempt to generate an extra £190m a year in income for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS). Ministry of Justice Courts Minister, Shailesh Vara, has insisted that the changes are proposed with the taxpayer in mind, and to make sure that standards in the UK legal system can be upheld:
“We have the best court system in the world, and we must make sure it is properly funded so we keep it that way.”
“Hardworking taxpayers should not have to subsidise millionaires embroiled in long cases fighting over vast amounts of money”
“The roots of many of our basic rights go back to the Magna Carta whose 800th anniversary is being celebrated in 2015.”
Legal bodies have gathered at the three-day Global Law Summit in London on the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta, to protest Graylings plans and issue pre-legal action letter calling for a judicial review. While Chris Grayling pledged in his opening address to the summit today ‘to continue with the pace around us, but remaining firmly rooted in the principles of Magna Carta that have served us well to date,’ opponents argued that his plans actually fly directly in the face of the historic document. At a 42-mile Relay for Rights march organised by the Justice Alliance on Monday Robin Murray, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, described Grayling as the ‘antithesis of what Magna Carta represents’.
According to the Law Gazette, the Law Society and their partners oppose Graylings plans on the following grounds:
“the government does not have the power to raise fees for the purposes it has stated in its consultation, to make ‘departmental savings’”
“the government is proceeding without evidence to justify the increases, which are effectively a tax.”
Law Society President Andrew Caplen believes that plans to raise court fees will cut small businesses and the less well-off public out of the legal system completely:
“The government’s policy on “enhanced court fees” amounts to a flat tax on those seeking justice. The government’s hikes – due to come in from April – will price the public out of the courts and leave small businesses saddled with debts they are due but unable to afford to recover.”
The RPC were so dissatisfied with the Ministry of Justice’s proposals that it issued a rare ‘red report,’ stating that “The department needs to make clear whether the proposal will result in the court service raising more funds than is necessary to cover their costs.” According to the Guardian, only 12 ‘red’ reports have been issued in the past 12 years, and usually lead to the government department significantly adjusting its plans.
The invoking of history and the Magna Carta by protesting legal bodies will surely add greater urgency to that process!