Three of the most senior judges in the country have condemned government plans to raise court fees.
Lord Dyson is the Master of the Rolls, the third most senior judicial position in the UK. Earlier this week he appeared before the parliamentary Justice Committee, which launched an enquiry into the fee proposals last summer.
He expressed deep concerns about the potential impact of the plans, which could see, amongst other changes, court fees for divorce increasing from the current £410 to £550.
There were “real dangers” in going ahead claimed His Lordship, and significant numbers of “ordinary people” who did not qualify for fee remissions because of their earnings would be put off going to court at all.
The government was “desperate” to plug “ a great big gap” in the finances of the Ministry of Justice, Lord Dyson continued, and had assumed fee rises would have little effect. Questioned about the possibility of insurance helping to cover increased costs, he said:
“They say that, but what is the research upon which that is based? I have not seen any.”
Lord Dyson was accompanied by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, and Lord Justice Ryder, who sits in the Court of Appeal and is also Senior President of Tribunals (administrative courts).
Sir James insisted that “shamefully little” had been done to help the increasing numbers of unrepresented litigants in person who had appeared before judges since the abolition of legal aid for most family law matters.
Court fee rises amounted to a “another poll tax on wheels” and women would be hardest hit, he declared.
The Judicial Executive Board, a body which represents the Lord Chief Justice, made similar criticisms of the fee proposals in October last year.