Aug 282016
 

imgres-1THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE HITS OUT AGAIN AT SMALL BUSINESSES
by Josephine Bacon
Not content with slashing the fees of court interpreters and lawyers at the criminal bar, the Ministry of Justice recently announced sweeping changes to civil cases for damages etc., meaning that individuals and small firms will not be able to afford to pursue such cases in future.
The changes mean, among other things, that claimants bringing law suits will incur significantly higher filing charges, increasing by as much as 600 per cent more in some cases! For example, pursuing a claim to the value of £20,000 will incur a 64 per cent fee increase – from £610 to £1,000 – while the charge for pursuing a claim of up to £190,000 has been increased by 622 per cent to an eye-watering £9,500.
Hugh Hitchcock, director at the Swansea firm of solicitors, Douglas-Jones Mercer, says the fee increase will significantly deter small businesses from pursuing civil torts committed against them.
“This massive increase in court fees is of huge significance to business, and many are unaware that much higher fees will now apply if they wish to bring cases to court. Some of the increases are prohibitively high, and I predict that this will create a barrier to access to justice for many small companies.
“All sectors will be affected by this change, but I can imagine it will be of particular concern to the construction industry, where non-payment and breach of contract disputes are rife. There is no doubt that, being faced with such a high outlay of cash for bringing a case will result in fewer valid cases being taken forward”. The victims in all cases will be small business, yet another victory for big business.
Another sector likely to be seriously affected is the IT industry. This will make it easier for big business to steal patents, a practice that is already all too common. Small firms will now be powerless to act.
Whilst the Government claims that the fee increase will gradually remove claims brought by “chancers” and ultimately speed up the legal process, the prospect of losing a valid case will undoubtedly play on the mind of businesses looking to initiate claims, to say nothing of being unable to afford to make the claim in the first place. A case is currently going through the courts of a tool-maker who had their patented process stolen by a high-powered multinational. Such a case, brought by a small company, will now be completely unaffordable in the UK, because the court fee is only part of the costs.
Hitchock continues, “The enhanced fees have been introduced with unprecedented speed and the rationale behind them is questionable at best. I am concerned that, for small businesses that don’t have powerful and weighty in-house law teams fighting battles on their behalf, these increases will deter them from making valid claims”.
The Law Society, with the support of other lawyers’ representative bodies, is taking this concern seriously by launching a judicial review of the increases.

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