The lord chief justice’s speech – the Legacy of Magna Carta: Justice in the 21st Century – given to a legal audience in New Zealand last month, was only released on Thursday.
“We have seen in England and Wales significant increases in court fees and the introduction in April of this year of mandatory fees to be paid by those convicted of crimes (either by plea or verdict),” Thomas explained.
“Whilst the judiciary has taken the view in modern times that modest fees in civil, family and tribunal cases are permissible and in accordance with the provisions of Magna Carta – and has made powerful submissions about the level of fees – it has left the balance as a matter for parliament to determine.
“Nonetheless the scale of court fees, together with the cost of legal assistance, is putting access to justice out of the reach of most, imperilling a core principle of Magna Carta. It is something that the judiciary, working with the executive and legislative branches of the state, needs to address.”
And he's right. In order for there to be justice, the courts need to be accessible to all. If people can't afford to go to court, or are dissuaded from defending themselves by the prospect of being whacked with extra charges which equal or outweigh the possible penalty for the offence, then there is no justice.
The question now is whether someone will challenge these fees under the UK's Human Rights Act. Though I'm not sure how well that deals with questions of general policy rather than specific injury.