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Resolution tells Justice Committee that court fee increases will hinder access to justice

Select Committee investigates effect of fee changes

Resolution chair Jo Edwards has given evidence to MPs on the House of Commons Justice Select Committee on how the Government's planned increase to the divorce fee will hinder access to justice.

Earlier this year, Resolution submitted a response to the Government's court fee increase proposals, which include a plan to raise the fee for getting a divorce by one-third, from £410 to £550. It is only two years since the fee was increased from £340 to £410. As set out in our response, we believe that the Government has not carried out enough of an assessment to gauge the impact of increasing the divorce fee by 60% in just two years.

Giving evidence, Jo Edwards told the Justice Committee that many ordinary people are already struggling with the current divorce fee in the wake of the legal aid cuts two and a half years ago, and that to increase it again may lead to some people being unable to afford to bring their relationship to a formal conclusion and finalise arrangements for their children and finances. This may tie people to abusive or unhappy relationships, putting some of society's most vulnerable people at risk.

She also told the Committee that, in the experience of Resolution's members, the fee remission scheme isn't working, and is poorly understood by the public.

Resolution calls upon the Government to halt plans to increase the divorce fee until a thorough impact assessment has been made to determine the impact of the previous fee increase and whether the significant further increase to £550 will deter people from pursuing their right to justice in the family courts.

Jo Edwards commented:

"I'm grateful for the opportunity to raise the very serious concerns Resolution has about the proposed divorce fee increase with the Justice Committee. Divorce is not a 'choice to litigate' – it's a necessary part of the legal process to bring a relationship to an end. The increase to £550 may lead to people unable to afford the fee remaining legally and financially tied to their former partner long after the relationship has ended – something that becomes dangerous in cases of abuse.

"It's important to note that this divorce fee will be payable regardless of whether the parties choose to use an out of court solution such as mediation to resolve money and children issues ancillary to the divorce, or to pursue remedies through the courts, and far outstrips the actual administrative cost of divorce, £270. The family courts exist to provide justice, not to make profit and it is not appropriate to make money out of relationship breakdown."

The background to the Justice Committee's inquiry, including its terms of reference, is here.

11/12/15