Bar Council calls for greater access to justice for SMEs

The Bar Council is warning that Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) are being priced out of Court, after data from the Registry Trust revealed a 19 per cent fall in County Court Judgements (CCJs) in the first half of 2016.

The news comes little more than a year after the Council campaigned against the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) increasing Court fees.

Despite the efforts of the Council and other campaigners, the MoJ introduced a 5 per cent fee on SMEs and individuals bringing claims worth between £10,000 and £200,000. Such fees are based on 5 per cent of the original claim’s value.

Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, previously warned that fee hikes would inadvertently have a “disproportionately adverse impact on SMEs” – an impact which Chairman of the Bar Council, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, believes has already hit SMEs hard.

“SMEs are being priced out of Court,” she said.

“Small businesses seeking debt owed to them by customers, who are often other businesses they supply, can turn to CCJs as a last resort to get the money owed to them.

“But by increasing Court fees, the Government has cut off those small businesses’ only real and last hope of getting that money – which is vital given how important cash flow is to SMEs”.

The MoJ remains under ever-increasing pressure to cut costs, but insists that at least 90 per cent of claims will not be affected by fee increases – as such claims should, as far as it is concerned, fall short of the £10,000 threshold.

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