EVERYDAY LAW: Revamp fee schedule
FROM this week I will consider some of the matters affecting the delivery of legal services. Today, I propose to consider how the court system, as it relates to civil and family matters, is funded in Barbados and to compare it with that of England and Wales.
I suspect that despite the improved accommodation for staff and judges afforded by a new Supreme Court Complex, the new civil procedure rules, along with the increase in litigation and other court applications, demand greater resources than are currently affordable if we continue to fund the operation of the court system in the traditional way.
In Barbados, costs such as the upkeep of court buildings and furnishings, utility expenses, salaries and expenses of court staff and the judiciary, information technology and telephone systems, and stationery and office equipment are funded principally by the taxpayers in very much the same way as education and health care are.
Fees are charged to users of the court system but they bear no relation to the actual costs of administering the system.
As a result, in some cases for less than $100 in court fees, a person can initiate court proceedings and engage the legal system for several days, sometimes spread over several years, before a resolution is found to the particular matter, consuming considerable judicial time as well as the time of legal counsel and other participants in the court process.
In my over three decades at the Bar, if there have been any changes in the court fees for initiating civil or family proceedings, those changes have been so insignificant that I cannot remember them.
For example, to initiate a claim to recover $1 million will attract no greater court fee than to initiate a claim for $10 000. The court fees for initiating civil or family proceedings are both under $100.
It is worth comparing the method used in England and Wales, where the system of justice is widely admired. In those countries fees in the civil and family courts are charged with a view to ensuring that the courts are adequately resourced and to ensure that taxpayer subsidies are kept to a minimum.
The following is an extract of the fees schedule as at January 2015 for starting proceedings for the recovery of money in the High Court and the County Court starting with claims of £3 000.
Where the sum claimed:
“(f) exceeds £3 000 but does not exceed £5 000, amount of fee is £205;
(g) exceeds £5 000 but does not exceed £15 000, fee is £455;
(h) exceeds £15 000 but does not exceed £50 000, fee is £610;
(i) exceeds £50 000 but does not exceed £100 000, fee is £910;
(j) exceeds £100 000 but does not exceed £150 000, fee is £1 115;
(k) exceeds £150 000 but does not exceed
£200 000, fee is £1 315;
(l) exceeds £200 000 but does not exceed £250 000, fee is £1 515;
(m) exceeds £250 000 but does not exceed £300 000, fee is £1 720;
(n) exceeds £300 000 or is not limited, fee is £1 920.”
In England the current court fee for initiating divorce proceedings is £410. In March this year fees were again increased, with a maximum fee of £10 000 for all claims valued above £120 000.
The new increases are designed to raise additional income of £120 million annually.
I should point out that in England there is a fees remission system which is designed to ensure that those who cannot afford to pay the cost of initiating proceedings will be exempted from paying fees or, depending on their resources, will pay a reduced fee.
It is unlikely that we could implement a fully financed court system in the near future, but it seems to me it is imperative to have the cases of the court system fund a more significant part of the costs of operating the courts.
In next week’s article I will take a look at our fees structure and make some proposals.
• Cecil McCarthy is a Queen’s Counsel.
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