1 Ministry of Justice Consultation Court Fees: Proposals for Reform Response from the Motor Accident Solicitors Society January 2014 Introduction This response is prepared on behalf of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) and submitted by the Chairman, Craig Budsworth. MASS is a Society of solicitors acting for the victims of motor accidents, including those involving personal injury (PI). MASS has over 170 solicitor firm Members, representing over 2000 claims handlers. We estimate that member firms conduct upwards of 500,000 PI motor accident claims annually on behalf of the victims of those accidents. The Society s membership is spread throughout the United Kingdom. The objective of the Society is to promote the best interests of the motor accident victim. This is central, and core to our activity. We seek to promote only those policy and other objectives which are consistent with the best interests of the accident victim. We seek to set aside any self interest in promoting these arguments, recognising that we are in a position of trust, and best placed to observe the best interests of motor accident PI victims first hand. We are a not for profit organisation, which requires specialism in motor accident claimant work as a pre-requisite for membership. We also have a Code of Conduct which member firms are required to abide by, which is directed to the best interests of the motor accident victim. Contact: If you have any queries or would like further information, please contact at first instance - Jane Loney at: MASS St Bartholomew s Court 18 Christmas Street Bristol BS1 5BT Tel:
2 Executive Summary MASS believes that despite the recent fee remissions reforms, raising the Court fees as proposed will by their very nature, adversely impact many court users to the point of potentially deterring them from pursuing their legitimate right to claim, purely because they are unable to afford it. Due to the current economic downturn and the reforms implemented by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, MASS believes there has been a significant financial impact already on whether claimants can afford to pursue a claim. Further additional cost, through these proposals to increase court fees, will only add to this inequality, resulting in only those who can afford it, being able to purse their legal right. We accept that it is financially necessary for those using the civil court system to contribute to the cost of the service where they can afford to do so. We also accept that where possible that contribution should be linked with the value of the claim. We agree that a standard fee for all non-monetary cases is a sensible proposition. Further, we consider the proposed fee of 270 to be appropriate in these circumstances. Whilst MASS accepts that it is financially necessary for those using the civil court system to contribute to the cost of the service where they can afford it, we are concerned that the proposed increase to fee levels for monetary claims is excessive. We submit that such a fee scale would act as a deterrent to some claimants in bringing claims in cases which otherwise should rightfully be brought. It is submitted that more work should be done to reduce the costs of the system with the consequent savings reflected in the court fee structure. We agree that by not increasing small claims track hearing fees, the Government is ensuring access to justice is not compromised. Whilst MASS agrees that it is right and proper that a Claimant should not be required to pay issue and or hearing fees which are disproportionate to the amount of damages they are seeking, the costs of such hearings, should not be borne by the taxpayer either, when it is proven to be unreasonable behaviour of Defendants, which have ultimately led to that position. We are concerned that the fees currently required to be paid by Claimants for a hearing are high and at times the service given to Claimants by the Courts, does not reflect the fees paid. MASS would urge the Government to ensure that the fee level reflects the actual service being provided, both in terms of cost and standards. Whilst we acknowledge that the Appeal process involves more experienced judiciary, and thus warrants an increased fee, to take the current fee and more than double it seems an astronomical increase. MASS would agree with a proportionate increase but would not see this at more than a 10% increase. We consider that 5% for cases over 10,000 is too high although it is accepted that there will be additional work done by the Courts which are at present overstretched and under resourced with many hearings simply being adjourned due to lack of resources. MASS agrees that there should be a maximum figure for issuing specified money claims, but does not agree that the figure should be 10,000. MASS considers that it would be considerably disproportionate in cases that would attract a higher fee even for the lower value work which settle immediately upon issue, given the little amount of
3 work involved by the Courts at this stage. This would be an increased upfront cost in respect of the amount issued, at a time when solicitors are already having to cut budgets substantially throughout.
4 Equality Question 1: What do you consider to be the equality impacts of the proposed fee increases (when supported by a remissions system) on court users who have protected characteristics? Could you provide any evidence or sources of information that will help us to understand and assess those impacts? MASS believes that despite the recent fee remissions reforms, raising the Court fees as proposed will by their very nature, adversely impact many court users to the point of potentially deterring them from pursuing their legitimate right to claim, purely because they are unable to afford it. Due to the current economic downturn and the reforms implemented by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, 2012, MASS believes there has been a significant financial impact already on whether claimants can afford to pursue a claim. Further additional cost, through these proposals to increase court fees will only add to this inequality, resulting in only those who can afford it, being able to purse their legal right. Issue Fees Question 2: Do you agree with the premise of a single issue fee of 270 for nonmoney cases? Please give reasons for your answer. MASS accepts that it is financially necessary for those using the civil court system to contribute to the cost of the service where they can afford to do so. We also accept that where possible that contribution should be linked with the value of the claim. In a nonmonetary claim however, it is impossible to place a value on the importance of the matter to a claimant. What price can be placed on the importance to a claimant of an application for access to a child, for example? For this reason, we agree that a standard fee for all nonmonetary cases is a sensible proposition. Further, we consider the proposed fee of 270 to be appropriate in these circumstances. Question 3: Do you agree with the proposed fee levels for money claims? In particular, do you agree with the proposal to charge the same fee for claims issued through the Claims Production Centre that would be charged for applications lodged online? Please give reasons for your answer. Whilst MASS accepts that it is financially necessary for those using the civil court system to contribute to the cost of the service where they can afford it, we are concerned that the proposed increase to fee levels for monetary claims is excessive. We submit that such a fee scale would act as a deterrent to some claimants in bringing claims in cases which otherwise should rightfully be brought. Whilst MASS maintains the principle that court proceedings should be considered a last resort after all other forms of negotiation or mediation have failed, there are cases where proceedings are necessary and to impose such a high scale of fees would prevent proper access to justice, particularly for those on low incomes. Given that the civil court system has worked hard and is continuing to strive towards affecting efficiencies through better processes, IT systems etc., it is submitted that more work should be done to reduce the costs of the system with the consequent savings reflected in the court fee structure. We agree that to encourage users of the court system to lodge proceedings online, a discount on court fees should be offered. This has the added expectation that the more claims which are submitted online, the greater the saving to the civil court system and these savings again, should be properly reflected in the court fee structure.
5 If savings can also be made through issuing proceedings through one Claims Production Centre, we consider that all users who do not wish to use the online service should be required to use such a centre where possible. Rather than a high fee with a ten percent discount for using the Claims Production Centre, we would suggest a lower fee for issue within the Claims Production Centre thereby ensuring the court system is accessible to all, regardless of income and bearing in mind this does impact those without easy access (or the basic computer skills set) amongst the lowest socio-economic groups and those whose first language is not English or indeed the elderly, many of whom are less computer savvy. A percentage increase on fees can be applied if another court is used. Post Issue Fees Question 4: Do you agree with the removal of the allocation and listing fee in all cases? Please give reasons for your answer. Allocation On the face of it, the suggestion to abolish the payment of an allocation fee at allocation stage seems sensible, purely in terms of removing an administrative step and thus perhaps saving Court time and resource, but there is very little within the consultation about the proposed alternatives on which to form a full opinion and response. Added to which, it will increase the up-front costs, borne by the injured Claimant and/or their legal representative. Fee remissions are uncommon. They are difficult to obtain, are time intensive, require the cooperation and assistance of not only the Court staff (who invariably are not trained in this area, or assert they are not) but also other government agencies, such as the DWP, which is often not forthcoming and certainly never expeditious. Fee remissions, either in whole or part, are simply an unrealistic option. And it is correct to say that ATE is available in the event that a claim is not successful, but this is costly and not recoverable. It is not an answer to ready cash. Whilst in many instances, the likely track is known to most parties and the Court, it is not always obvious at the point of issuing of proceedings. Allocation was and is likely to remain a contentious issue (as parties views on quantum differ so greatly) added to which allocation is not simply about value. It is also directly linked to complexity. A case may not be of multitrack value, but may be complex in terms of liability arguments, jurisdictional arguments, may be highly contested and likely to run to more than 1 days hearing. This cannot always be ascertained at issue stage, as neither the Court nor the Claimant will have the benefit of the Defence, or have any idea of other factors which determine which track is suitable, such as how many witnesses the Defendant intends to call etc. Therefore the inclusive fee may be incorrect. The payment of the fee at allocation stage, we would suggest, cannot be a huge administrative burden to the Court service currently. As the filing of the directions questionnaire will still be necessary, it would seem to us that an administrative process still exists and the paying of a fee would seem reasonable as part of that process. Payment at the outset, when a case is issued, of course adds to up-front costs, required to be paid by a Claimant. Whilst their legal representatives are often the ones bearing the financial burden of issuing Court proceedings, this is not always the case, and in these tough economic times, when cash flow is stretched to the maximum, there may be less appetite and availability of funding to enable Claimants to bring cases which have high up-front issue costs. This will undoubtedly have the effect of limiting access to justice. An injured person who has attempted to settle their claim pre Court proceedings, but has been unable to do so, has no option but to resort to the litigation process. A choice no-one wishes to make. High up-front issue fees will deter some people from taking this route. That
6 will deny some people access to justice, as if they, as injured individuals, often unable to work, are unable to fund such costs, they may struggle to locate legal representatives who are able and willing to fund their claim for them. It will no doubt also drive certain behaviours from Defendant representatives, who will be less likely to settle cases outside the court process, as they will want to put added pressure on Claimants and their representatives to have to issue cases a decision they may not wish to or be able to take because of the financial implications. Staged payments, such as at the directions stage, is also often used as a negotiation tool or more bluntly, a stick with which to beat a Defendant. Without such a stick, there is the possibility that cases will run further and for longer, and will simply act as another deterrent to Defendants settling cases earlier. If the bulk of Court fees are paid up-front, Defendants are going to be more likely to run cases all the way to a hearing. Also, we feel that one consequence that needs to be considered is the impact this proposal would have on costs budgeting as part of the case management/allocation process? Listing Paying a combined fee at the listing stage is eminently sensible, and will certainly streamline the process. Question 5: Do you agree that small claims track hearing fees should be maintained at their current levels, which are below cost? Please give reasons for your answer. MASS agrees that by not increasing small claims track hearing fees, the Government is ensuring access to justice is not compromised. In our experience Defendants often run small claims all the way to a hearing, because there is no financial disincentive not to, despite there being a significant cost to the government and taxpayer. This isn t acceptable. Research indicates that the recovery of costs in small claims hearings falls short of what these hearings actually cost. In such cases, where the Defendant has unreasonably failed to settle a claim within the small claims track, and by their behaviour, forced such claims to a hearing, and lose, MASS suggests that they should be required to pay an enhanced fee to cover the actual and real hearing costs, which could be paid to the Court and not the Claimant. Whilst MASS agrees that it is right and proper that a Claimant should not be required to pay issue and or hearing fees which are disproportionate to the amount of damages they are seeking, the costs of such hearings, should not be borne by the taxpayer either, when it is proven to be unreasonable behaviour of Defendants (often well funded and cash rich businesses and organisations) which have ultimately led to that position. Question 6: Do you agree that fast track and multi-track hearing fees should be maintained at their current levels, which are above cost? Please give reasons for your answer. MASS is concerned that the fees currently required to be paid by Claimants for a hearing are high and at times the service given to Claimants by the Courts, does not reflect the fees paid. In our experience we are seeing an increase in instances whereby hearings are being cancelled just hours before they are due to be heard, due to insufficient Court time, lack of Judges, lack of Court space etc. This is of considerable concern and can lead to a significant amount of distress for the Claimant. MASS would urge the Government to ensure that the fee level reflects the actual service being provided, both in terms of cost and standards.
7 Question 7: Do you agree with proposals to abolish the refund of hearing fees when early notice is given that a hearing is not required? Please give reasons for your answer. Predicated on the basis that Claimants already pay high hearing fees, it seems entirely unjust to suggest the abolition of this part of the process. In reality, it is extremely difficult to obtain a refund from a Court, regardless of the period of notice that has been given. Whilst MASS appreciates that Courts are largely under resourced, no explanation is provided within the consultation as to why this process is described as being administratively costly. It is our experience that more and more hearings are being adjourned by the Court s due to listing issues, (i.e double booked, not enough Judges, no court rooms etc), but we do not understand why Courts are unable to fill the spaces left behind when a hearing is vacated. Consequently we would urge the Government to work closely with the Court service to improve the current system and efficiencies before considering abolishing the court hearing fees which would be at the detriment of the claimant. As an alternative, consideration could be given to tightening the criteria for a refund, perhaps for example extending the notice period to 14 days (thus giving the Court more time to fill the vacated time with other hearings and appointments). MASS believes that abolishing a refund altogether is unfair to the Claimant, and would not stop unreasonable Defendant behaviour, who will have even less financial incentive to settle a case. MASS believes that the provision of this relief is fundamental to providing a commercial Court service to those who need to use it. In addition, it seeks to encourage and drive certain behaviours, from all involved in the process (Claimant, Defendant and the Court). Private law family proceedings and divorce Question 8: Do you agree with proposals to retain the current fee levels for private law family proceedings and divorce, and the proposal to no longer charge a fee for nonmolestation and occupation orders? Please comment on all or any of these processes. Children Act cases Question 9: Do you agree with the standardisation of the fee for Children Act cases, and with the proposal that there should only be one up-front fee for public law family cases? Please give reasons for your answer. General applications (Family Proceedings) Question 10: Do you agree with the standardisation of general application fees and fees for applications within family proceedings? Please give reasons for your answer.
8 Judicial review Question 11: Do you agree with the proposed fee levels for judicial review cases? Please give reasons for your answer. Probate Question 12: Do you agree with proposals to increase the fee for an application for grant of probate to full-cost levels? Please give reasons for your answer. Court of Appeal (Civil Division) Question 13: Do you agree with the proposed fee levels for cases taken to the Court of Appeal? Please give reasons for your answer. Whilst we acknowledge that the Appeal process involves more experienced judiciary, and thus warrants an increased fee, to take the current fee and more than double it seems an astronomical increase. The impact will undoubtedly be that more parties involved in litigation are far less likely to consider an appeal on a case. Bearing in mind the number of cases where the original decision is overturned, this will undoubtedly have a major impact on access to justice, with Claimants being dissuaded from bringing an appeal because of the cost. An unforeseen consequence could well be that so few cases are appealed that we lose a great deal of experience in the judiciary of handling the appeals process. However, MASS would agree with a proportionate increase but would not see this at more than a 10% increase. Court of Protection Question 14: Do you agree with the government s proposed changes to the fees charged in the Court of Protection? Please give reasons for your answer. Question 15: Do you have any further comments to make on the government s cost recovery plans? Enhanced fee charging Money claims Question 16: Do you agree that the fee for issuing a specified money claim should be 5% of the value of the claim?
9 MASS agrees that this may represent a fairer system for the lower value claims of under 10,000. Specified money claims will not include claims where the victim sustained injury as a result of a Road Traffic Accidents or other types of accident. Therefore, in relation to road traffic accidents, which are dealt with by our members, specified money claims will be typically for the recovery of uninsured losses arising from the damage sustained to the vehicle such as repairs, storage costs, hire costs and loss of earnings through not having a motor vehicle. MASS considers that 5% for cases over 10,000 is too high although it is accepted that there will be additional work done by the Courts which are at present overstretched and under resourced with many hearings simply being adjourned due to lack of resources. Impact on the Accident Victim Access to Justice: if implemented, these changes will reduce access to justice for genuine accident victims. Reduction in quality of advice: if Court fees are dramatically increased as proposed then expertise will fall. Reduction of independent advice: With increased upfront costs and the Jackson reforms implemented from 1 April 2013, there will be a reduction of solicitors working in this area which means a reduction of availability of independent advice for the Claimant. Question 17: Do you agree that there should be a maximum fee for issuing specified money claims, and that it should be 10,000? MASS agrees that there should be maximum figure for issuing specified money claims but does not agree that the figure should be 10,000. MASS considers that it would be considerably disproportionate in cases that would attract a higher fee even for the lower value work which settled immediately upon issue given the little amount of work involved by the Courts at this stage. This would be an increased upfront cost in respect of the amount issued, at a time when solicitors are already having to cut budgets substantially throughout. Unspecified money claims Question 18: Do you believe that unspecified claims should be subject to the same fee regime as specified money claims? Or do you believe that they should have a lower maximum fee of 5,000? Please give reasons for your answer. MASS is of the belief that unspecified money claims should attract a lower and proportionate fee. The majority of cases that are issued and settle over 10,000 involve cases where medical evidence is not complete due to ongoing complex injuries which require further investigation and therefore by their very nature are difficult to value at first instance. For example, in cases up to 100,000 these would be affected substantially as the issue fee would have a substantial increase from the current level of 685 to Impact on the Accident Victim Access to Justice: if implemented, these changes will reduce access to justice for genuine accident victims.
10 For example, those cases with lower prospects of success may not be initially accepted by Claimant solicitors and those others possibly being abandoned pre and/or post issue due to the likely increase in ATE premiums (which post 1 April 2013 are no longer payable by the Defendant). Reduction of independent quality advice : With increased upfront costs and the Jackson reforms implemented from 1 April 2013, there will be a reduction of solicitors working in this area which means a reduction of availability of independent advice. If the fee were to be capped at 10,000 this would have a more severe effect upon solicitors from having the upfront cost, and access to justice would undoubtedly be more seriously affected than if the Court fee is to be capped at 5000 which in any event MASS considers too high. Question 19: Is there a risk that applying a different maximum fee could have unintended consequences? Please provide details. MASS is of the opinion that access to justice would be affected for the innocent accident victim. The aim of the enhanced fee system is based on the case volumes staying the same, however, certainly within the personal injury sector with the amount of changes that have already taken place in such a short period of time, some solicitors are likely to avoid taking on those cases that are likely to come with considerable upfront cost. This would conversely have an affect of reducing case volumes, certainly within the value range of 10,000 above, therefore resulting in access to justice being greatly affected where the possible value of the claim would exceed 10,000. Money claims in commercial proceedings This area is outside of MASS expertise and therefore we are unable to answer the questions in this section. Question 20: Do you agree that it is reasonable to charge higher court fees for high value commercial proceedings than would apply to standard money claims? Proposals for Reform Question 21: We would welcome views on the alternative proposals for charging higher fees for money claims in commercial proceedings. Do you think it would be preferable to charge higher fees for hearings in commercial proceedings? Please give reasons for your answer. Question 22: Could the introduction of a hearing fee have unintended consequences? What measures might we put in place to ensure that the parties provided accurate time estimates for hearings, rather than minimise the cost? Please provide further details. Question 23: If you prefer Option 2 (a higher maximum fee to issue proceedings), do you think the maximum fee should be 15,000 or 20,000? Please give reasons for your answer. Question 24: Do you agree that the proposals for commercial proceedings are unlikely to damage the UK s position as the leading centre for commercial dispute
11 resolution? Are there other factors we should take into account in assessing the competitiveness of the UK s legal services? Question 25: Do you agree that the same fee structure should be applied to all money claims in the Rolls Building and at District Registries? Please give reasons for your answer. Question 26: What other measures should we consider (for example, using the Civil Procedure Rules) to target fees more effectively to high-value commercial proceedings while minimising the risk that the appropriate fee could be avoided? Question 27: Should the fee regime for commercial proceedings also apply to proceedings in the Mercantile Court? Please give reasons for your answer. Divorce proceedings Question 28: Do you agree that the fee for a divorce petition should be set at 750? Please give reasons for your answer.
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MAKING A PERSONAL INJURIES CLAIM* GETTING STARTED DO I HAVE A CASE? The first step is to contact one of our experienced personal injuries solicitors and arrange a no obligation consultation. At the initial
Independent Report Review of Claims Management Regulation Response from the Motor Accident Solicitors Society November 2015 Introduction This response is prepared on behalf of the Motor Accident Solicitors
Conditional Fee Arrangements, After the Event Insurance and beyond! CFAs, ATEs, DBAs Let s de-mystify the acronyms! 1. Conditional Fee Arrangements 1.1. What is a Conditional Fee Arrangement A conditional
E P EWART PRICE SOLICITORS ROAD TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS - NOTES FOR CLAIMING FOR PERSONAL INJURY AND OTHER UNINSURED LOSSES If you have been involved in a Road Traffic Accident as a driver or passenger we hope
Conditional Fee Agreement: What You Need to Know This document forms an important part of your agreement with us. Please read it carefully. Definitions of words used in this document and the accompanying
ASLEF Response to the Making Justice Work Consultation Reform (Scotland) Bill The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) is the UK s largest train driver s union representing approximately
EX302 How do I make a court claim? For people who want to take a dispute to court About this leaflet This leaflet is for people who want to take a claim to court. It explains: how to prepare your court
Personal Injury Litigation after APRIL 2013 - Cambridge Medico-legal society ANDREW RITCHIE QC 9 Gough Square LONDON 1 Before 2003 In PI cases in claimant work: Solicitors were paid by the hour The courts
STUC Response to the Scottish Government s Making Justice Work - Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill May 2013 Introduction The STUC is Scotland s trade union centre. Its purpose is to co-ordinate, develop and
Competition Commission: Private Motor Insurance Market Investigation Response from the Motor Accident Solicitors Society January 2014 Introduction This response is prepared on behalf of the Motor Accident
T&Lbulletin CONSTRUCTION TECHNICAL & LEGAL BULLETIN FEBRUARY 2013 2013 JACKSON REFORM UPDATE From the beginning of April this year, Employers Liability (EL), Public Liability (PL) and Motor Injury Claims
Review of the Uninsured and Untraced Drivers Agreements Covering letter The Secretary of State for Transport is a party with the Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB) to two agreements, the Uninsured Drivers Agreement
International Academy of Comparative Law 18th World Congress Washington D.C. July 21-31, 2010 Topic II.C.1 COST AND FEE ALLOCATION IN CIVIL PROCEDURE General Reporter: Mathias Reimann University of Michigan
Access to Justice Civil Litigation Reforms & AIG Start The reforms AIG Response day 1-5 day 6-20 day 21-25 AIG process map Overview and key Changes For more details of the reforms click here > The Jackson
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Employment Tribunal rules: review by Mr Justice Underhill Response by Thompsons Solicitors November 2012 About Thompsons Thompsons is the most experienced