Lawyers fear court fees rise will affect '˜access to justice'

Lawyers have raised concerns about Scottish Government proposals to increase civil court fees by almost a quarter, warning the rise could affect access to the justice system.

Law Society of Scotland president Eilidh Wiseman is concerned by the proposals.
 Picture: Ian Rutherford
Law Society of Scotland president Eilidh Wiseman is concerned by the proposals. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The government has published a consultation to seek views on options for ensuring that fees raised in the civil courts cover the cost of business.

In 2014/15, there was a shortfall of £5.4 million between fee income and the costs of the civil courts.

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Two options are set out in the document – a flat rise, increasing all fees by 24 per cent, or targeted rises, increasing selected fees.

The first solution would see a 24 per cent increase to all civil fees charged in the Court of Session, the High Court, the Sheriff Appeal Court, the Sheriff Court, the Sheriff Personal Injury Court and the Justice of the Peace Court, raising an extra £4.9m.

The second option would involve fees being raised for some of the most common services and would raise an additional £6m.

The Dean of Faculty of Advocates, Gordon Jackson QC, said: “The faculty will consider the paper and respond in detail in due course.

“My immediate concern would be maintaining access to justice and I would be anxious to ensure that no change would adversely affect that.”

Law Society of Scotland president Eilidh Wiseman said: “We strongly believe that courts in Scotland should be a public resource and therefore have obvious concerns over proposed increases on this scale.

“When the Scottish Government last consulted on increases to civil court fees in 2015, we reiterated that we do not support the principle of ‘full-cost pricing’ as well as our reservations over the disproportionate effect increased court costs could have on small legal practices, ultimately reducing consumer choice.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Successive governments have supported the principle of full cost recovery. This means that the costs associated with the civil courts should be borne by those who use them and can afford to make a contribution.