Legislation to increase various fees for litigants in the island has been approved by Tynwald despite a formal letter of objection from many of the island’s advocates.
The change will see big price hikes in the cost of, for example, taking out a small claim.
Speaking in Tynwald, Douglas East MHK Brenda Cannell said the points raised in the advocates’ letter were valid and the motion was being proposed without a full appreciation of the likely impact.
Onchan MHK Zac Hall said the advocates’ letter had been sent with the blessing of the Law Society. It was endorsed by 12 firms and ran into eight pages.
‘This will create a society where unscrupulous people will believe they can get away with it and the most vulnerable sections of society will be affected by this,’ he said.
Alex Downie MLC said three quarters of small claims were under £1,000 and the fee increase for these was £10 to £20. But Mr Hall said for small claims in the higher band the cost would rise from around £649 to £7,500.
‘That’s an outrageous increase,’ he said.
An amendment proposed by Onchan MHK Peter Karran to refer the matter back to the Social Affairs Committee was defeated 14 to 10 in Keys and seven to one in Legislative Council.
Treasury Minister Eddie Teare said the points in the advocates’ letter had been raised ‘at the 11th hour’ and added: ‘Access to justice is determined not just by court fees but also by fees charged by legal advisors and I feel they need to have a look in the mirror. I have done what I said I would do in May and I’m sticking to my guns. This fees order is still very reasonable and competitive compared with other jurisdictions.’
The increases were approved by 15 votes to nine in Keys and by seven votes to one in Legislative Council.
Law Society president Kevin O’Riordan told the Independent he felt access to justice for many was being jeopardised by cuts in legal aid and increases in court fees.
‘It’s not something lawyers are championing, except on behalf of their clients,’ he said.
‘Sadly, there has been an unfortunate lack of consultation with the legal profession on this issue as well as others of relevance to us. I understand the need to control spending, but not the apparent reluctance of the government to recognise that lawyers may have a useful contribution to make to the debate.
‘It is the client who has to pay court fees, which go to the Treasury rather than to the lawyers, so that we are not directly affected. Those who feel the impact of these increases will be the growing number of people who do not qualify for legal aid but are still of relatively modest means.
‘I also have to register disappointment at the Minister beating that tired old drum about excessive lawyers’ fees. He seems to be unaware of how much legal work is done by many advocates pro bono or at significantly discounted rates.’