Justice isn’t cheap.
Employment tribunal fees are up (leading to a 70% drop in claims), a divorce petition costs an eye-watering £550 and – somewhat ironically – it’ll cost you £180 to declare yourself bankrupt.
The immigration field is even more challenging. First, you have to pay a visa application fee: in the case of settling with your partner in the UK, the fee is £1,195. You want indefinite leave to remain? That’ll be £1,875. If you want to apply for naturalisation it will cost you £1,236.
Imagine (it isn’t hard to do) that your application is rejected by the Home Office and you want to appeal to an immigration tribunal – here’s where the controversy starts.
Prior to October 2016, the fees were at a relatively reasonable £80 to appeal to the First Tier Tribunal, though this appeal was only ‘on the papers’; an actual hearing would be £140. For the Upper Tribunal, provided you got permission to appeal the FTT’s decision first, it was actually free.
Yet in October 2016, despite blanket opposition during the consultation process, the then Justice Secretary Michael Gove went ahead with fee increases of 500%. The FTT appeal would cost £800 for a full hearing, the UT would be £860 after permission had been granted.
But then, near the end of November, the Ministry of Justice performed a U-turn . No one would have to pay the new fees, and those that had been paying them would be refunded to the old fee system.
Why? In a statement Sir Oliver Heald (Minister of State for Courts and Justice), said:
‘we have listened to the representations… and have decided to take stock and review the immigration and asylum fees, to balance the interests of all tribunal users and the taxpayer and to look at them again alongside other tribunal fees and in the wider context of funding for the system overall.’
Now, in the Government’s defence, a number of good fee exemptions have been introduced (such as for children in local authority care). Also, if you are having trouble with court and tribunal fees, you can make use of the fee remission and exemption website.
A broader question to ask though is why the increase in fees at all, given its impact on access to justice (a basic tenet of the rule of law)? If the argument is that it saves money for the taxpayer, this rather ignores the fact that those taxpayers may well want to use the justice system at some point – and they might appreciate it being affordable.
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