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TUES 23/03/2010 - Following a review of the fees that local authorities pay when bringing child care proceedings in the courts, the Government has announced that it will scrap the fess from April 2011.
The Family Proceedings Fees Order came into force fees on 1 May 2008 and increased the court fees local authorities have to pay in care and supervision proceedings from £150 to £5,225 for a fully contested court case.
Following a recommendation in Lord Laming's report on the protection of children in England, the Justice Secretary commissioned a review of the fees that local authorities pay when bringing child care proceedings in the courts. The review concluded that the costs of bringing proceedings, including the court fees, can deter local authorities from bringing proceedings.
The scrapping of the fees marks a significant U-turn for the government after strongly resisting that the 'full cost recovery' principle should not be extended to child-care cases. In November 2008 four local authorities, Hillingdon Borough Council, Leeds City Council, Liverpool City Council and Norfolk County Council, lost a judicial review against the government over the fee increase.
The government transferred £40 million from HMCS' budget to local authorities that initiate these proceedings. However they came under criticism from both local authorities, who felt this was insufficient to cover the cost, and from senior judges who were concerned that the money was not ring-fenced.
Earlier this month Lord Laming told Newswatch that he believed the fees should be abolished. He said: "I think the fees ought to be removed, I don't understand the reason for the fees. Firstly, it can't be claimed that they would deter frivolous applications for care because if the local authority succeeds in getting a care order it is going to potentially cost them a huge amount of money by having the child in public care. Secondly, it seems to me odd that the public purse on the one hand gives £40 million to the local authority and on the other the local authority gives it back when they make an application for a care order.
"Finally I think that where the state decides it must intervene in family matters to the degree of trying to have parental rights removed from parents to the state, then frankly fees are not a relevant matter."