On 30 September 2021, the Government increased various court fees despite 61% of consultees objecting to the proposed increases. Amongst the fees to be increased are those of some key family applications:
Application Old Fee New Fee
Divorce Petition £550 £593
Financial Remedy £255 £275
Financial Consent Order £50 £53
Child Arrangements £215 £232
The Government’s position is that the fee increases are necessary in order to reflect the rise in inflation and HMCTS’ increased running costs. However, if wages are not increased at the same rate is it really fair to pass these costs on to court users?
It is clear that the courts are under ever-increasing pressure. In the period from 1 January 2021 to 31 March 2021 71,707 new cases were started in the family courts, an increase of 7% on the same period in 2020. However, this pressure is also being felt by court users as private law cases are taking an average of 25 weeks to first disposal, an increase of eight weeks from the previous year. Many respondents to the Government’s consultation felt that it was unfair to increase the cost of court fees in circumstances where the level of service is declining.
The digitisation of various court services was another reason cited by respondents as to why fee increases would be unfair, the perception being that running costs of an online service may be lower. Whilst this may be true in the long term, the rapid pace at which HMCTS has been able to move the bulk of family court applications online during the Covid pandemic is likely to have required significant capital expenditure.
Evidently there are no easy answers to this hotly debated topic but it is hoped that as Covid restrictions continue to ease the courts will be able to return to capacity and waiting times will begin to decrease again.