Government rejects suggestions for the divorce fee rise to be rescinded

Published: 30th November 2016

The House of Commons Justice Committee has had their recommendation of rescinding the increase of the divorce petition fee to £550 rejected by the Government.

The report from the Justice Committee states that urgent changes are needed to reinstate an ‘acceptable level of access to the civil and family courts'. The report states that the introduction of fees being set at a level that will recover or produce profit against the full cost of the operation of the court does need to be heavily justified and needs close and particular attention. The Chair of the Justice Committee, Bob Neill MP, said:

‘Where there is conflict between the objectives of achieving full cost recovery and preserving access to justice, the latter must prevail.’

The Ministry of Justice responded to the Committee’s recommendations regarding the court and tribunal fees, saying that the fee remissions scheme, Help with Fees, is in place to help those that are unable to pay the fees, to ensure that they still have access to justice. It was further stated that:

‘In the circumstances of a divorce (or any other matter where the parties have a contrary interest in proceedings) the applicant is assessed on his or her own, rather than the household's, means. On this basis, women are more likely to qualify for a fee remission than men.’

The new fee came into effect on 21 March of this year and the Ministry of Justice has yet to find evidence that thefee increase (to £550) has led to a fall in divorce applications.

‘Overall, we believe that the fee for a divorce is reasonable when considered against the objectives, generating an estimated £12 million per annum in additional fee income as a contribution to the savings required to make sure that the courts and tribunals are properly funded, and that access to justice is protected.’

Bob Neill MP stated that it was disappointing to see that the response from the Government was so negative with regard to the recommendations put forward by the Justice Committee, saying:

‘Perhaps more concerning is that it is almost offensively perfunctory, appearing to have been rushed out at short notice and giving little evidence of attention paid to the Committee's detailed evidence and analysis. This is all the more surprising given that Government has had more than four months to produce this reply. I therefore intend to raise this matter and possible further steps with the Committee at our next meeting.’

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