The Ministry of Justice has implemented plans that will see an end to recovery of the refund of court fees where cases have been settled or discontinued.
The change came about as a result of the MOJ’s 2010 Spending Review Settlement which included a commitment to recover the full cost of the Civil Court System through fees, excluding fee remissions.
The Civil Proceedings Fees (Amendment) Order 2016 came into force as of 6th March 2017, amending the Civil Proceedings Fees Order 2008. came into force as of 6th March 2017, amending the Civil Proceedings Fees Order 2008. Fee 2.1 in Schedule 1 of the 2008 Order governed the payment of trial fees and set out the circumstances in which a refund would be payable. Whilst the amount of such fees remains unchanged, Article 2 of The Civil Proceedings Fees (Amendment) Order 2016 removes the availability to obtain refunds for the types of cases where proceedings have been settled or discontinued for cases allocated to the small claims track, fast track and multi–track in both the County Court and the High Court.
Article 2 of the Order also amends the timescales in which the fees are payable. Under the previous provisions the fee can be required to be paid many weeks before the date of the hearing with the level of any potential refund depending on how far in advance of the hearing date the case is withdrawn. Refund applications are, apparently, administratively costly for HMCS to process and they say, there is no available evidence that indicates that the refunds policy actively encourages early settlement of claims. The instrument therefore provides that where notice of the trial date or trial period is given by the court 36 days or more before the trial date or the Monday of the first week of the notified trial period, the fee is payable at least 28 days prior to the trial date. The time limit is subject to two exceptions. If notice of trial date is given by the court less than 36 days before the trial date or the Monday of the first week of the notified trial period, the fee is payable within 7 days after the date on which notice is given. Where a party has applied for a fee remission and that application is still outstanding at the point at which the fee is due, but is then refused in full or part, the fee or balance of the fee must be paid within 7 days after the date of dispatch of the notification that the fee remission has been refused, or at least 28 days prior to the trial date or the Monday of the first week of the notified trial period, whichever is latest. When the court gives notice of both a trial date and a trial period, the fee is payable by reference to the Monday of the first week of the notified trial period.
Article 3 is a saving provision with the effect that the amendments contained within the Order do not apply to cases in which a notice of the trial period is given by the court before the date on which the Order comes into effect i.e . 6th March 2016.
In terms of impact the instrument is likely to have on any savings to be made to the court system, and whether this will make a substantial dent in the current deficit will remain to be seen. The legislation appears to have no obvious effect upon receiving parties given that, in successful claims, the fee should be recoverable in any event. In so far as paying parties are concerned, whilst there are likely to be grumblings with regards to the unfairness of the removal of the refund provisions, this should in part be balanced out by the decision to move the date at which the trial fee becomes payable and should mitigate any potential impact.