Law Council calls for reversal of court fees hike

The Law Council of Australia has raised concerns that the $87.4m rise in court fees will erode access to justice in the community.

Rising court fees are expected to raise $87.4m, but only $24m is expected to be reinvested into the justice system, according to the Law Council of Australia.

The increase in filing fees, will apply to proceedings in the High Court, Federal Court, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court.
Duncan McConnel, president of The Law Council of Australia, said the increase is unwarranted and unfair given previous fee increases in recent years.

“Just two years ago, federal court filing fees were tripled. Now, court users are having even greater taxes imposed on them while little is given back to the justice system,” McConnel said.

The Law Council pointed out that additional costs, implemented since 2010, have totalled around $256m, legal assistance services only seeing around $66m of the funds raised.  The courts have seen around $60m.

“This is a heavy blow to access to justice in this country and a continuation of an unfortunate failure to acknowledge the damage to the justice system of excessive court fees, or to consult effectively with the courts and the legal profession.  Many people on middle-to-low incomes may now find it simply too expensive to enforce their rights through the courts, which will undermine the rule of law and the proper administration of justice,” McConnel said.  “The Law Council calls for the reversal of these fee changes in the interests of access to justice.”

Those using the Federal Circuit Court for separation will be particularly impacted with court fees for a divorce increasing by $350, to $1,195.  Rick O’Brien, chair of the Law Council’s Family Law Section, said the increase will be a significant burden on families, particularly women and children fleeing domestic violence.

“The changes to family law fees are particularly cynical when there is no option for divorcing parties other than to apply to the court, and even when they reach an agreement there is a fee imposed for consent orders.  The fact that the revenue raised is not being fully invested back into the underfunded Family Courts simply makes it worse,” O’Brien said.

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