Page last updated at 18:39 GMT, Friday, 8 May 2009 19:39 UK

Judge criticises court fee plans

Scales of justice
There are proposals to increase the cost of court fees

A senior judge has called on the government to reconsider plans to increase court fees in civil and family cases in England and Wales.

Lord Justice Jackson said moving civil justice system costs from taxpayers to litigants was "wrong in principle".

Ministers propose increasing court fees so the system is self-funding.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said the government would "provide real help now to those in society who most need help and support".

The Court of Appeal judge's remarks are contained in the first report of a major review of the costs of civil litigation, published on Friday.

BBC Home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said the review found that court fees in civil cases had doubled and in some cases trebled in the past 10 years "substantially in excess of inflation".

Currently fees cover around 80% of the £650m annual cost in England and Wales, with the Ministry of Justice paying the rest.

Critics say the changes could reduce access to justice.

Overhead needs

The judge in charge of the civil courts, Sir Anthony Clarke, the Master of the Rolls, said representations to the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, had "fallen on deaf ears".

Sir Anthony told a press briefing that the "prospect of persuading the government on this point is not good".

The review by Lord Justice Jackson also criticised the cost of personal injury cases as "remarkably high".

He said: "The personal injury litigation industry is populated by numerous interest groups and middlemen, all of whom have to meet their overheads and make a profit on top."

Lord Justice Jackson said he supported measures, put forward by the government two years ago, to streamline the personal injury legal process, saying they made "eminently good sense".

The second phase of the review, including full conclusions, is expected to be published in December.

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