The Government published its vision for a reformed court and justice system, on 15 September 2016 – to modernise and upgrade our justice system so that it works even better for everyone – for judges and legal professionals, businesses and individuals, families, and witnesses and the vulnerable victims of crime.
The Government is committed to investing more than £700 million to modernise courts and tribunals, and over £270 million more in the criminal justice system.
Alongside this reform it remains important to make sure that our courts and tribunals service is properly and sustainably funded now and into the future, so that access to justice is protected.
In 2015/16, the net cost of the courts and tribunals service to the taxpayer was £1.2 billion. This is unsustainably high and we think that it is right to reconsider the balance of funding between the taxpayer and those who use the courts and tribunals and can afford to make a larger contribution.
The Government’s general principle, as reflected in Managing Public Money, is that where users are being charged for a service they should usually be charged at a level to recover the true cost to the Government of providing that service.
In line with this principle we believe it is right that those who use our courts and tribunals should make a greater financial contribution, to make sure that the system is properly funded to protect access to justice and to reduce the unsustainably high cost to the taxpayer.
As a result we have introduced a number of fee reforms in recent years, including to the fees charged for proceedings in the civil courts, family courts and in some tribunals.
In the challenging financial circumstances faced by this country, we consider it is reasonable to ask users of Tribunals to contribute to the running costs while ensuring that access to justice is protected.
Those who use our immigration and asylum system are not excepted from the need to make a financial contribution.
Consequently in 2011, the Government introduced fees for the first time in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal. These fees would be paid, where they could afford to do so, by those who make an application to appeal an immigration or asylum decision of the Home Secretary. At that stage those fees were set well below full cost recovery levels.
Consistent with our general principle we revisited those fees earlier in the year and launched a public consultation on 21 April 2016 proposing to raise fees in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for those who pay to a level to recover the full cost of proceedings.
We also consulted on introducing fees for the first time for appeals in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the Upper Tribunal and for permission to appeal applications in both the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal.
In addition, we consulted on a proposal to add an exemption from fees based on the Home Office destitution waiver policy.
We responded to the consultation announcing our intention to proceed with the proposed fee measures. The higher fees in the First-tier Tribunal then came into effect.
The fee increases introduced in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal are affordable for those who have to pay, taking into account the fee exemptions and waivers that apply, as well as the Lord Chancellor’s exceptional power to remit fees.
However, we have listened to the representations that we received on the current fee levels 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.
From today all applicants will be charged fees at previous levels and we will reimburse, in all cases where the new fees have been paid, the difference between that fee and the previous fee.
We will bring forward secondary legislation to formalise the position as soon as possible. That legislation will come into force shortly, but in the meantime the changes will be effected through the use of the Lord Chancellor’s discretionary power to remit or reduce fees.
Alongside the fee changes introduced we extended the fee exemptions offered in the First-tier Tribunal, to include:
- those in receipt of a Home Office destitution waiver in respect of their initial application;
- parents of, and those with parental responsibility for, children receiving support from local authorities;
- children in local authority care; and
- those appealing a decision to revoke their humanitarian protection or refugee status.
The Government believes that these exemptions are proportionate measures that protect some of the most vulnerable users of the Tribunal. For this reason the extended system of fee exemptions will remain in place.
We also took the opportunity when introducing the fee changes to expand and clarify the guidance around the application of the Lord Chancellor’s power to remit or reduce fees in exceptional circumstances. This revised guidance is not affected.
The role of fees in the Upper Tribunal will also form part of the review. The focus of our work is now on carrying out that review. We will bring forward any new plans for Tribunal fees, including in the Immigration and Asylum Chambers of the First-tier and Upper Tribunals, for consultation in due course.
The Government’s belief is unchanged that it is right that those who use our courts and tribunals should pay more, where they can realistically afford to do so, to ensure that the system is properly funded to protect access to justice and to relieve the burden on the taxpayer.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords