Submissions to Senate Committee Inquiry into the Impact of Federal Court fee increases since 2010 on access to justice have pointed out the problems with the high cost of court fees. The Committee is due to report back in early June.
RoLIA’s submission started with a quote from Professor de Q Walker’s “twelve point institutional definition” of the requirements for the rule of law:
Walker, G de Q, The Rule of Law: Foundation of Constitutional Democracy, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne 1988 at p.40. “The courts should be accessible, so that a person’s ability to vindicate legal rights is not made illusory by long delays or excessive costs.”
RoLIA’s submission made the following points with regard to the fee increases:
- At face value linking fee increases to CPI is not objectionable, provided the fees set when the Regulations came into effect were reasonable. This is not uniformly the case.
- The jump in fees has been sharp. The fee for a divorce application in 2010 was $550, in 2012 $577, and then suddenly $800 in 2013. Even those eligible for the reduced filing fee saw fees rise by more than 300% from $60 to $265 in 2013.
- Fees in the Federal Courts must be affordable. While a range of cheaper alternative dispute resolution processes may be available, parties involved in complex or intractable matters should not be denied access to the court because of their financial vulnerability.
RoLIA believes that the rise in federal court filing fees has confused two issues: access to justice and budgeting. The rise in fees is not just a financial issue, it is a threat to a fundamental principle of the rule of law. 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.