THERE SHOULD BE an urgent review of New South Wales court fees and charges system so that government departments are forced to pay their share of the costs, the NSW Law Society said last week.
While government departments are amongst the biggest users of the courts, they are exempt from paying fees, leaving the financial burden to other civil court users, NSW Law Society president John McIntyre said.
In an interview with Lawyers Weekly, McIntyre said courts are largely being paid for by the users of the courts themselves. “If the Government is not paying court fees then private citizens and companies are subsidising the Government’s use of the courts.”
As well, he didn’t “understand the rationale behind having one fee payable by an ordinary citizen and another by a corporation”. “The Government introduced this differential to justify charging an increased fee. I think it was a revenue gaining exercise.”
He condemned the corporation definition, arguing that “any business which has a turnover of at least $200,000 per year falls under the corporation umbrella and is required to pay more than double the fees paid by individual litigants”. This means that small family businesses that have a turnover of just over $200,000 are being forced to pay the same whopping fees as global corporations.
“The current court costs regime — which is determined by the State Government and not the courts themselves — is fundamentally flawed and is in need of an urgent review. In 1988 there were only 11 items under the Supreme Court Fees Regulation. This figure has almost tripled to 27 in 2004. Many of the additional court costs which have been introduced by the Government are arbitrary and merely a blatant revenue gathering exercise,” said McIntyre.
The Law Society urged the Government to “completely overhaul” the current court costs system, as well as change its policy so that government departments also bear the brunt of court fees.
According to McIntyre, “the whole system of court fees should be reviewed”. He argued that the number of different sorts of court fees has expanded “dramatically”.
McIntyre gave the example of the hearing allocation fee, a basic clerical exercise to set a date for a trial. Currently, the hearing allocation fee is $1,172 for individuals and $2,344 for corporations. “The Government … has added further fees into the process so now you’re paying fees such as a court hearing allocation fee.
“The purpose of paying a filing fee is to have a matter heard and disposed of by the court. To charge further fees for almost every step of the litigation process, especially massive costs for allocating a hearing date, is a failure by the Government to provide the community with ready access to justice.”