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We have condemned proposals from the Ministry of Justice to increase the cost to members of the public who apply to the magistrates’ court in civil cases. The proposal is to increase the costs by 10 per cent*. The society says that this will hit those people who are defending the public interest in public paths.
At present, a member of the public can apply to the magistrates’ court to require a laggard council to carry out its duty to defend people’s rights to use footpaths and bridleways. If the council has failed to deal with an illegal obstruction, a member of the public can ask the magistrates to intervene.
This is a civil action, but the person is acting in the public not the private interest and therefore should not be forced to pay considerable costs.
In addition, the new Deregulation Act 2015 transfers some functions from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the magistrates’ court. These are part of the process for recording missing paths on the official maps.
Members of the public, who wish to correct the record, apply to the surveying authority (county or unitary council), but if that authority fails to act, in future the applicant will appeal to the magistrates’ court, not the minister, to achieve action.
Again, people undertaking this process are doing so for the public benefit and should not be penalised by massive costs in the magistrates’ court.
So we have called on the Ministry of Justice not to increase magistrates’ court costs when actions are in the public interest and, indeed, to consider reducing them.
*The fee is currently £205 to commence proceedings where no other fee is specified.