Lord Justice Jackson has issued a plea for the government to stop relying on litigants to meet the costs of the justice system. He has raised concerns and asked the government to think long and hard before it decides whether civil court fees should continue to rise at a rate far in excess of inflation.
The increases in court fees, which have seen costs for launching a civil claim jump by up to 620 per cent, have been criticised by lawyers for placing access to justice out of the reach of many individuals and small businesses.
There has been widespread criticism of justice system reform, with many legal practitioners arguing that the large fee rises already deter those with lower value claims from bringing claims to court: even some leading judges have been highly critical, labelling the increases as ‘another poll tax on wheels’.
Now Lord Justice Jackson has raised his concerns and called on the government to exercise caution. Writing in his new book, – The Reform of Civil Litigation, Jackson LJ says that ‘whilst it is not appropriate for a judge to “campaign” about court fees (or any other form of indirect taxation); there is a serious point of principle here’.
With the civil courts playing a role in the proper functioning of the economy, Jackson has said it would be wrong for ‘the entire cost or most of the cost of the civil justice system’ to be shifted from taxpayers to litigants.’
The book also addresses many of the controversies that have arisen from his eponymous report, which recommended the abolition of recoverability of success fees and ATE insurance, as well as greater use of fixed recoverable costs for civil cases. The Lord Justice of Appeal said that the increase in personal injury claims shows fixed costs have not reduced access to justice but only reduced the costs of litigation. He also added that he expects the use of fixed costs for different types of cases to be expanded in the future. He has previously called for fixed costs to apply to all claims valued up to £250,000.
Jackson LJ spoke earlier this year about the need to expand fixed costs beyond personal injury, and as a consequence the government started a consultation process this month on how to implement such changes. Jackson added:
‘As a serving judge I have written the book in order to promote a proper understanding of the reforms and better litigation practice.
‘I also hope the book can help encourage the proper implementation of those recommendations for reform which are as yet unimplemented or only partly implemented.’
Responding to the book’s publication, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, Richard Burgon MP, told LabourPress:
‘Lord Justice Jackson is the latest in a long line of senior legal figures to question rises in court and tribunal fees under the Conservatives.’
‘These fee rises have shifted the burden of seeking justice on to the poorest and most vulnerable in society, scandalously putting access to justice beyond the reach of many.’