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The government has issued a consultation paper on court fee increases (responses by 15th September).

It used to be the case that the courts were regarded as part of the public service funded mostly by the taxes citizens pay. However, over the last few years that has changed to trying to make the courts self financing. In fact the government can now, and do, charge more than the cost of providing the service.

It has often been said of the courts that, like the Ritz, they are open to all. Court fee increases, especially substantial ones, make that saying all the more real. The effect is that the courts are increasingly only open for the rich. The government counter this by saying that they have a court fee remission scheme but, apart from being very bureaucratic, hence discouraging use, the vast majority are left having to fund court fees from their own pockets if they wish to enforce their legal rights. After all, what use is a right if only the rich are able to enforce such rights.

The present court fee for starting a divorce petition is £410 (increased to that figure in July 2013). The government is proposing that it increase to £550. They describe this one third increase as “modest”. The original proposal from the coalition government had been to increase the fee to £750 but in January 2015 it decided to make no increase at all so the government has now changed its mind.

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