Justice Select Committee Says Divorce Fees Are "Unjustified"
The Law Of... proving fees are fairThe Justice Select Committee has published a report strongly criticising increases in court fees in recent years. The higher fees, which go above the actual costs of the hearings, have been introduced by the Government in an effort to fund the legal system more widely.
The prices of court fees for divorce
have risen from £410 to £550
; prompting concerns that access to justice will be seriously hindered.
Access to Justice Must Come First
The main concern of Justice Select Committee
is that the Government has been quick to introduce changes that are restricting access to justice, but they aren't providing good enough reasons for them.
MPs warned that the recent increases are "unjustified"
, the report said:"The introduction of fees set at a level to recover or exceed the full cost of operation of the court requires particular care and strong justification. Where there is conflict between the objectives of achieving cost recovery and preserving access to justice, the latter objective must prevail."
A Divorce Tax
In January 2015, the Government appeared to make a U-turn by announcing that they would increase divorce fees to £550, rather than the previously planned £750. Irrespective of this step down, the committee pointed out that fees were still set to be around double the cost of providing the service.
The committee – made up predominantly of Conservative MPs – gave their scathing opinion on how divorce will be affected:"It cannot be right that a person bringing a divorce petition - in most cases a woman - is subject to what has been characterised in evidence to us as effectively a divorce tax. We recommend that the increase in the divorce petition fee to £550 be rescinded."
A Double Blow for Divorcees
Carol Chrisfield is an Associate Solicitor specialising in Family Law
, she explains how - coupled with legal aid cuts - these fees can be too much for divorcees:"As a family lawyer, you see first-hand the harmful impact of such fees. For some, finding the court fee to issue a divorce is an insurmountable problem, particularly as legal aid has also been restricted – this means that a significant number of people cannot then access legal advice which may help them.""Although for many people there is no way to avoid the court fee, some may qualify to be exempt and we can advise them if they are. We recognise that court fees and restrictions on legal aid prevent access to justice, which is why we offer fixed fees. For people who aren't exempt from the charges, fixed fee advice can make justice more achievable.""It is positive to see that the Justice Select Committee shares concerns widely held by family lawyers, and also recognises the potentially discriminatory nature of the increases.""It's hoped that the government will act to rectify this issue."