In the news
The Justice Select Committee has found that steep rises in court fees are damaging access to justice. The report examines the recent and proposed changes to fees for court users in the civil and family courts and tribunals, including those introduced for employment tribunals and the proposed increase to asylum and immigration fees. The Committee, chaired by former barrister Bob Neill MP, raises serious concerns about the quality of the Ministry of Justice’s research into the impact of the fees, sharing the view expressed by the senior judiciary who gave evidence that it does not provide a sufficient basis to justify the proposals. Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, described the research as “lamentable”.
The Coalition Government over the course of the 2010-15 Parliament pursued policies aimed at decreasing the net cost to the public purse of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, by introducing and increasing various fees for court users. This included introducing fees for employment tribunals, the now extinct criminal courts charge, and a range of fees for civil proceedings, including “enhanced fees”, which are set at a level greater that the costs of the proceedings themselves. The pursuit and implementation of fees has been continued in the current Parliament.
Regarding the controversial employment tribunal fees introduced in 2013, the Committee found that “major changes” are required to restore an acceptable level of access to the employment tribunals system, which has seen a precipitous drop of almost 70 per cent in the number of cases brought since the introduction of the fees. The report also criticises the “unacceptable” delay in the Government publication of its post-implementation review of the fees, which was originally expected by the end of 2015. The Committee recommends that the overall fees for bringing cases in the employment tribunals should be substantially reduced, fee remission thresholds increased, and special consideration should be given to the position of women alleging maternity or pregnancy discrimination.
The Ministry of Justice are currently considering a 600 per cent increase in fees for asylum and immigration fees. The cost of oral hearings will rise from £140 to £800, and an application for a decision on the papers will rise from £80 to £490. If this goes ahead, the Committee consider that “there is a danger they will deny vulnerable people the means to challenge the lawfulness of decisions taken by the state about their status”.
Whilst the Committee does not object in principle to court fees, on the basis that some degree of financial risk is an “important discipline” for those considering legal action, determining the appropriate level of fees requires a consideration of the need to preserve access to justice. Factors to be taken into account include the vulnerability of claimants and their means in comparison with respondents, such as major companies or the state. The Committee concluded definitively that where there is a conflict between achieving full cost recovery and preserving access to justice, the latter must prevail.
- Human Rights Watch have called on the EU not to send Syrians back to Turkey. Delays in registration and limited implementation of temporary protection policies in Turkey mean that many Syrian refugees are left without effective protection or access to jobs, health care or education for their children. As long as Turkey is “burdened by overwhelming numbers of refugees” and unable to provide sufficient protection for them all, Syrians should not be sent back there. Under the agreement between the EU and Turkey effective as of March 2016, Syrian asylum seekers in Greece can be returned without an EU evaluation of their original protection claims concerning conditions in their home countries because Turkey is a “first country of asylum”, or a “safe third country”. HRW argues that “safe” in this context should mean more than being safe from war, and include protected rights in line with the Refugee Convention such as access to work, healthcare and education. Syrian refugees are allowed to apply for work permits only if they meet certain residency criteria and if they can find an employer willing to sponsor them – criteria which are difficult to meet. According to HRW these difficulties put them at risk of exploitation and poverty.
- Two journalists for Doha-based news organisation Al Jazeera are among six people sentenced to death by an Egyptian court for allegedly passing state secrets to Qatar. The former director of news at Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel, Ibrahim Helal, and correspondent Alaa Sablanwas were sentenced to death in absentia. The current Egyptian administration under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, claims the network’s coverage of Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East is biased in favour of militant Islamic groups. Al Jazeera says it has been “consistently and deliberately targeted” by the Egyptian authorities since it started coverage of Arab Spring protests in 2011 and was forced to close its offices in the country. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reprieve have all condemned the trials. The Committee to Protect Journalists lists Egypt as one of the most dangerous places for reporters to work.
In the Courts
RD v France – The Strasbourg Court has ruled that deportation to Guinea would be a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture or degrading treatment). This case concerned the deportation to Guinea of Ms RD, a Guinean national living in France. Whilst living in Guinea, Ms RD had met X, a Christian. Ms RD’s Muslim father, an imam, refused to allow her to marry a non-Muslim. Her father and brothers threatened to kill her if she continued the relationship, but RD ran away and married X when three months pregnant. Her father and brothers found her, beat her up and took her back to her father’s house by force. The police later found her at the house tied to a tree. Whilst at the hospital she found out that she had lost her child. Her father, an influential imam, had meanwhile had her husband arrested. RD sought refuge at her uncle’s house, but fled for France when threatened with being discovered. Her asylum application in France was rejected. The Court held that France had breached her right to protection against inhumane treatment under Article 3.
Fourkiotis v Greece – the failure of the State to enforce the applicant’s rights to see his children was a violation of Article 8. Mr Fourkiotis, a Greek national living in Piraeus, had been judicially separated from the mother of his two children, IP. In June 2010, the court had ordered Mr Fourketis to leave the marital home and pay maintenance to IP and the children, and determined a schedule of access rights for Mr Fourkiotis. In October 2010, IP applied to the courts for an order prohibiting contact between Mr Fourkiotis and the children. Mr Fourkiotis applied to the same court for custody of the children, citing IP’s conduct regarding his access rights. In February 2011, an interim ruling was made awarding custody to IP and access rights to Mr Fourkiotis. However, in March 2011, Mr Fourkiotis contacted the Athens prosecutor asking them to take measures to protect his children’s interests and his relationship with them. In September 2011, Mr Foukiotis complained in a letter to the public prosecutor that they had not yet taken any action, and that he had not seen his children since June of that year. He successfully relied on Article 8 in Strasbourg, complaining of the State’s failure to ensure the effective exercise of his access rights.
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