'Priced out of justice': Lib Dem MP fights court fee increase

Coalition proposals to increase court fees are "pricing people out of justice", according to a Liberal Democrat backbencher.

Birmingham Yardley MP John Hemming has called on the government to rethink its proposals to hike the cost of applying for judicial reviews, which he claims are "just selling justice" – and undermining Magna Carta.

The government's consultation says the changes will charge users of the high court and court of appeal civil division "more proportionally for the resource their cases consume, while protecting access to justice for the most vulnerable".

Hemming, who as a 'McKenzie friend' assists people through the legal process, said only one of four recent cases he was involved with had won a free exemption from the fees because the individual was on benefits. The others faced total costs of around £400, which he said were "already a deterrent".

Judicial review applications are set to rise from £60 to £235. Fees to proceed for a hearing will increase from £215 to £235. This will reduce the taxpayer subsidy of the courts service, the government's consultation suggests.

"My concern is court fees should not be used as a mechanism of deterring people from applying for some form of legal action or another," Hemming told politics.co.uk.

"What I have a problem with is pricing people out of justice. It is a mistake to believe that the court fees are trivial."

Reforms to court fees form part of a broader coalition drive to make it harder to challenge the government via judicial reviews.

Hemming said he did not object to changes to prevent lengthy delays to planning proposals, but was concerned by the impact the reforms could have on ordinary people.

Earlier this month he raised the issue with David Cameron in the Commons. The prime minister replied: "The point that we are making is that the extent of judicial review has massively increased in recent years, and we think that there is a need for some new rules to look at the extent, and indeed the costs, of judicial review, so that the costs are properly covered.

"In that way, we can maintain access to justice, but perhaps speed up the wheels of government a little."