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The cost of litigating
Last year was a tumultuous time for the legal system in England and Wales, with one of the more contentious events being the introduction of a new scale for court fees. Money claims that are issued with a value over £10,000 are now subject to a court issuing fee of 5% of the value of the claim.
The higher court fees are particularly felt for personal injury litigation. Badly injured claimants with £200,000+ claims usually find themselves out of work, reliant on benefits and without a spare £10,000 available to fund the issuing of an injury claim.
This has led to some using inventive means to assist claimants to avoid high issuing fees, for example, some have been issuing a claim with lower statements of value than the real value of the claim and consequently a lower fee being paid. The claims are then amended at a later date to reflect the true value with the difference in the issue fee then being paid.
In Lewis and others v Ward Hadaway  EWHC 3503 (Ch) Mr John Male QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, found that issuing a claim form with a statement of value lower than the true value of the claim and knowing that it would be amended later to increase the value was an abuse of process.
The Judge deemed this to be an Abuse of Process because:
1. It was always the claimants’ intention to amend the claims at a later stage for no good reason other than to pay a reduced fee;
2. Although the proper fee was later paid, this caused disruption to cash flow for the court system and increased administration by processing two sets of fees and claim forms;
3. There was a public interest in claimants not behaving in this way;
4. There was a possible advantage gained over the defendant by the claimants being able to stop time running by paying a lower issue fee to issue the claims.
A finding of abuse of process can lead to the claim being struck out. This is a clear indication by the courts that inventive avoidance, even if the avoidance was temporary and the correct fee would be paid later, will not be tolerated and if you deliberately under state the value of the claim you risk having the claim thrown out.
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