Are our courts now becoming debt-collectors of unpaid court fees? Richard Foster, the CEO of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court has announced that family courts are trying to recover 1.4 million in unpaid fees.

In the Rule of Law Institute’s (RoLIA) submission to the Senate inquiry into the impact of steep rises in federal court fees in April 2013, RoLIA expressed a deep concern about attempts to turn access to the courts into a user-pays system in light of the declining financial position of federal courts:

…provision of justice through a functioning, adequately resourced justice system is a core responsibility of government. Budget crises require budgetary responses, not inroads into the rule of law and access to justice.

As reported in the Australian Financial Review on 23 August 2013, former Federal Court justice Kevin Lindgren has also expressed concerns about the striking increase in federal court fees on access to justice. At a public lecture at the University of Sydney in July he said:

The Rule of Law and a strong independent judiciary are empty ideals if people cannot access the courts.

RoLIA is particularly concerned about escalating family court fees which affect the most vulnerable people, often in traumatic circumstances. Between 2010 and 2012, the reduced fee for a divorce payable by those on the lowest incomes increased by more than 340%.

If the price of justice and the rule of law has become a choice between financial hardship, being chased for unpaid court fees, or just unaffordable, our whole community suffers.

Further Reading