Earlier this year, in a move which took many family lawyers by surprise, the Ministry of Justice increased the fee payable to commence divorce proceedings from the previous £410 to £550. The same fee applies to applications for a decree of nullity or, in the context of civil partnership, for a dissolution order or nullity order. The Justice Select Committee has called for the increase in the fee to be rescinded. The MoJ had originally proposed that the fee should be raised to a whopping £750 but proceeded with the lower increase in response to a consultation on court fees.
The Committee’s recommendation was made in a newly published report on courts and tribunal fees. Of the divorce fee, the committee noted:
“[W]ith the average cost of proceedings standing at £270 in January 2015, the fee of £410 was already an enhanced fee.”
The committee concluded:
“A further increase to £550, which is approximately double the cost to the courts of providing the service, is unjustified. It cannot be right that a person bringing a divorce petition, in most cases a woman, is subject to what has been characterised in evidence to us as effectively a divorce tax. We recommend that the increase in the divorce petition fee to £550 be rescinded.”
The report also raises serious concerns about the quality of the Ministry’s research and shares the view expressed by the senior judiciary and some others who gave evidence that it does not provide a sufficient basis to justify the proposals.
The Committee also proposed that a pilot scheme should be set up of a system in which there is a graduated or sequential system of fee payments whenever there are substantial fees payable in total in respect of a case in the civil or family courts or tribunals, allied with the requirement for the respondent to pay a fee.
It was also recommended that the Ministry of Justice should take up the Law Society’s suggestion that it should introduce a system for regular rerating of remission thresholds to take account of inflation, and that it should conduct a further review of the affordability of civil court fees and the remission system, considering means of simplification, for example through automatic remission for all basic rate taxpayers.
The recommendation will be welcomed by many separating couples and family lawyers alike and Resolution has urged Ministers to listen to the Committee.