Consultation on Civil Court Fees
23 January 2019
In 2016, the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service (‘NICTS’), launched a consultation paper proposing three methods by which to increase Civil Court Fees. The purpose of the increase was to ensure full recovery of the administration costs associated with the service NICTS provides. The result of the 2016 consultation saw a staged increase in Civil and Family Court fees over a year 3 year period; 10% in April 2017, 7.5% in April 2018 and 5% in April 2019.
Despite the staged increase, NICTS has only managed to achieve an 82% recovery of costs. Due to the continuing shortfall, the Department of Justice has launched a further public consultation proposing an additional increase in existing Civil Court fees together with the introduction of some new fees.
Increase in existing fees
The consultation paper proposes that the 2019/2020 planned uplift on fees (5%) ought to be doubled to an uplift of 10%, effective from 1st April 2019. This would have the following effect on some of the fees currently charged:-
Introduction of new fees
With regard to the introduction of fees for services which were previously free, the consultation paper proposes fees of £195 for Master’s Review Hearings and £261 for Judge’s Review Hearings.
The consultation also reviews the Exemption and Remission Policy (‘the Policy’), introduced in 2007 to ensure that an individual’s inability to pay court fees did not adversely impact on access to justice. NICTS identified that approximately 80% of fees waived under the Policy were granted to personal litigants, a small number of whom frequently used the Policy and had ‘a number of cases running concurrently’. NICTS identified that, over a 3 year period, £43,000 in court fees were waived for these individuals.
In order to ensure that the Policy is not abused, the consultation proposes a number of methods by which to introduce a degree of control. For example (i) removing the application of the Policy to Appeals, (ii) introducing a cap on the number of fees or cases that can be supported by the Policy and (iii) permitting recovery of waived Court fees if an Applicant is successful and receives financial reward. The consultation also proposes that the Policy be abolished in its entirety and for the Pro Bono system to provide support to meritorious cases.
The Department of Justice has sought views on alternative ways to ensure full costs recovery and responses to the consultation are due by 18th February 2019.