HC Deb 09 February 2001 vol 362 c774W
Mr. Singh

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what research is being undertaken on the impact of civil court fees on access to justice; what effect the reduction in the number of cases has had on the financing of the Court Service; and if further fee increases are planned for the current year. [149292]

Mr. Lock

It is impossible to assess the impact of civil court fees on access to justice without also looking at the effect and intention of the civil justice reforms, and other factors and trends that may influence behaviour. Two independent surveys on the impact of the reforms have already noted changes in litigation behaviour, with less litigation and faster case settlement. Our plans for evaluating the civil justice reforms will look at the effect of the reforms on access to justice. It would be difficult to scope a study that concentrated on fees alone.

Any litigant in person who is in financial hardship can apply to the court for exemption or remission of a fee. Exemption will be automatic if someone is in receipt of a means-tested benefit. In other cases, a court officer will consider remitting all or part of a fee if financial hardship is proven.

A public consultation paper on fee increases, issued in January 2000, explained that the fall in numbers of proceedings issued following implementation of the civil justice reforms had been partly responsible for a fee income shortfall against cost of £18 million (approximately 5 per cent.). The main reason for the shortfall was that costs could not decrease in line with the reduction in workload due to the new tasks undertaken by the courts in processing Cases.

County court fees are currently recovering their associated costs but fees charged in the Supreme Court are not because the civil justice reforms increased the jurisdiction of county courts, leading to a fall of over 60 per cent, in proceedings issued in the Supreme Court.

There are no plans for fee increases during the current financial year.