THE move to raise court fees in the Local Court by an average 17 per cent from the beginning of February has started some mutterings within the legal community.
The Local Court handles civil claims up to the value of $25,000.
A large proportion of its work is debt recovery and, as such, it is used heavily by the debt recovery agencies and legal firms specialising in this area.
There are literally tens of thousands of cases filed in the local court each year and tens of thousands of documents filed to accompany them.
As previously, the fees attached to court proceedings in the jurisdiction depend on the size of the claim being contested.
For example, if the claim does not exceed $5,000, the fee is $51.20. Previously it was $44.20.
If the claim is more than $5,000 but less than $10,000 it costs $105.20. It was previously $90.20.
When the claim is more than $10,000 the fee hits $208.20, up from $178.20.
While the fee increases are relatively small, the higher cost is being passed on to the public.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Jim McGinty said the "adjustment" of 17 per cent reflected the cumulative consumer price index increase for Perth from April 1 1997 to September 30 2003.
"The current Local Court fees were gazetted on August 28 1998 and included CPI adjustments for Perth up to and including March 31 1997," she said.
Law Society of Western Australia president Ian Weldon said the society did not like to see significant rises on filing fees.
Mr Weldon said the Government had taken over the power of the courts to set fees some time ago.
"It’s certainly getting more and more expensive," he said.
However, Mr Weldon said he suspected this latest cost increase was a move by Government to simply try and cover the costs of running the court.
"Even these increases wouldn’t go towards covering the costs of the system," he said.
Legal experts that use the Local Court system extensively say that the effect of the cost rise, if any, has yet to filter through to them.
A Pioneer Credit staffer said the increase in fees would probably not have much of an impact on the firm’s operations.
She said the increases were relatively small in the areas the firm did its business.
Jones King’s Gary Rutherford said he had not received any adverse feedback from clients over the higher fees.
"It doesn’t mean to say that our clients haven’t noticed it or decided not to take proceedings because of the higher costs," he said.
"I think we’ll have a better idea on that though in a couple of months time."
Arns and Associates’ Paul Arns said there had not been much upset in respect to the higher fees from his clients.
However, he said that could be due to the higher fees being in place for little more than a month.
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