The Government has initiated a consultation regarding the widespread increase of court fees. While most attention will undoubtedly be given to the huge increases for civil claims, those involved in divorce proceedings will also feel the impact.
At present the fee payable to the court to issue a divorce petition and process it to a decree absolute is £410, some of us have been around long enough to remember when the fee was in double figures!.
Ministers had initially planned to increase the charge by 80% to £750 but have opted for a smaller increase. The plan is to increase the court fee from £410 to £550.
When a couple reach a decision that their marriage is over it doesn’t tend to be based on what the court fee will be, that comes later, and usually as an unpleasant surprise! However in light of this recent fee consultation people may now start to assess the financial impact of fees. Indeed, it may well be the case that for those couples who have separated and always intended to get around to the mechanics of the divorce that they begin to consider swifter action to avoid being hit with increased legal fees. It will be interesting to see whether the sector experiences a spike in divorce matters as individuals attempt to save on costs before a new fee structure is in place later this year.
It would also seem that the intention is to increase the fee for consent orders from £50 to £100. It is not at all unusual for parties in a divorce to reach agreement about financial and property issues without having to make an application to the court, but it is sensible to ensure that there is no further litigation to obtain an order confirming the terms that they have agreed between them. Even a court fee of £100 is better than having to go through the whole process with the court.
These proposed fee increases appear to be part of an overall philosophy that the court should pay for itself and is not simply free (or at least cheap) public service. It can be argued that it should be part of the business of Government to provide an accessible court structure.
Discussing the consultation announcement earlier this week, Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: "All civil cases, from those filing for divorce to landlords needing their property back are affected by these latest punitive increases which are tantamount to selling justice like a commodity, leaving it out of reach for many ordinary people.
"This will only serve to widen the access to justice gap in our two-tier justice system”.
The increases confirmed this week, expected to come into force later this year, are predicted to generate an extra £60 million a year. When we are told that the non-protected Government departments are expected to devise plans for 40% savings, then so far as the Ministry of Justice is concerned this seems to be an indication as to where some of that money is going to come from.