With little fanfare, and at the start of the summer holiday season, the Ministry of Justice has published its response to an earlier consultation paper on enhanced fees for divorce proceedings, possession claims, general applications in civil proceedings and is now consulting on proposals for further fees.
Until you realise that, tucked away in paragraphs 124-127, is the proposal to introduce fees for proceedings in the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber).
This chamber deals with a range of regulatory matters, eg those concerning charities, consumer credit, gambling, transport and appeals from decisions of the Information Commissioner. Currently the only fee income is generated from appeals in relation to gambling licences.
In 2013-14 the estimated cost of the General Regulatory Chamber was £1.6m. The fee income generated from gambling licence appeals was £11,600. The MoJ plans to increase the Chamber's fee income to £350,000 by levying new fees.
The proposal is to charge a fee of £100 to issue proceedings, which would entitle the claimant to a decision based on a review of the papers. The claimant may alternatively elect for an oral hearing, in which case a further fee of £500 would be payable. Based on current volumes, the MoJ estimates that this proposal would generate a cost recovery percentage of around 17% after remissions.
The fees will also apply to “reference” cases where cases are started in the first-tier Tribunal but have to be referred directly to the Upper Tribunal for a first instance hearing.
What is not known is what impact this will have on justice. When fees for referrals to employment tribunals were introduced, the volume of referrals to the tribunals collapsed. Will this move deter a similar percentage of unhappy DP complainants? Given the extremely low volume of DP cases that are currently referred to the Tribunal, it may be some time before this becomes evident.
I suspect that, given the relatively high number of FOI cases that are referred to the Tribunal, we’ll soon learn what effect the introduction of fees will have here.
Will fees really deter claimants who passionately believe in the strength of their case, but lack the funds to place their £100 / £500 punt? I doubt it. Already I’ve seen one consultant tweeting that he’ll stump up the £100 fee for four cases himself – so if the market wants it, there ought to be a safety valve for complainants who are financially stretched.
But fewer appeals to the Tribunal would mean less work for the ICO (with a consequential impact on staffing levels) and on the demand for highly skilled legal advice from our chums at 11 Kings Bench Walk.
The MoJ is inviting comments on this proposal by the end of the summer holiday season (15 September).
So, take a break from your well-earned summer holiday write to the MoJ if you really feel passionately about the matter.