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Court fee increases to kick in this week

Time for change: Larry Mussenden, the Chief Justice (File photograph)

“Significantly higher” fees for court services will come into effect this week, boosting revenues by an estimated $750,000 a year.

The “long overdue” increases — the first in 60 years — were drafted last year after consultation between the Government, court officials, and the Bermuda Bar Association.

The Rules of the Supreme Court Amendment Rules 2024 — which will come into effect on Friday — were approved by Narinder Hargun, who was then the Chief Justice, and ratified by Rena Lalgie, the Governor, before being presented to the House of Assembly by Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, in May 2023.

Last week, Chief Justice Larry Mussenden warned that some fees would be “significantly higher”.

A statement explained that when documents are filed in courts, litigants were required to pay fees, for the “considerable cost of facilitating the justice system”.

It said: “An assessment was conducted that compared Bermuda court fees to those in other jurisdictions and Bermuda’s fees were found to be considerably lower than competitor jurisdictions, especially when compared to other British Overseas Territories such as the Cayman Islands.

“As Bermuda’s international business sector has developed and grown, the number and complexity of court matters have increased significantly.”

A new scale of fees will impact matters in magistrates’ and supreme courts as well as the Court of Appeal.

The statement said: “It is anticipated that these changes will yield an estimated additional $750,000 in fees aid to the courts.”

It explained: “The overall aim of the amendment rules is to ensure the sustainability and quality of our justice system.

“Sustainability in turn warrants that consideration is also given to ensuring that the new fees accurately represent our present-day economy.”

The statement said the new structure brought certain fees in line with similar jurisdictions overseas.

It added that the Chief Justice considered that “the fee increases in commercial cases are reflective of the judicial resources required to deal with these cases on a timely basis”.

The statement said: “The increase in fees will lead to a welcomed significant increase in the overall revenue collected by the courts.

“It is noteworthy that the new fees, in some instances, will be significantly higher than what they were.

“Again, this speaks not only to current economic reality but also to approximately six decades where there has been no fee increases.

“These amendments therefore make provisions which include allocating different fees for commercial litigants — trade or commerce matters — and non-commercial litigants — and provide generally higher fees for commercial litigants consistent with other jurisdictions.

“The demarcation takes into consideration not only the means of litigants but the fact that commercial litigation often has a greater financial outcome and is more demanding upon the justice system.”

Presenting the revised structure to MPs in the House of Assembly last May, Ms Simmons claimed that court fees were “lagging” behind the island’s competitors and needed to be increased.

She said: “We are all starkly aware of the need to increase the island’s revenue stream to assist in stabilising our economy.”

Noting that fees had generated less than $55,000 in the previous three years, Ms Simmons said: “The amendment rules seize the opportunity to rectify this decade’s overdue modernisation of court fees as well as a noted revenue shortfall.

“Updating the court fee schedule as presented in these amendment rules will also provide the opportunity for more measured incremental increases as required in the future.”

The statement from Mr Justice Mussenden last Friday described the increases as “a milestone” and “a welcomed significant increase in the overall revenue collected by the courts”.

It said: “These amendment rules will support an avenue for the Supreme Court of Bermuda to continue to properly administer justice for the foreseeable future.”

The statement added: “There is little doubt that this increase in revenue through this and the tranche of court fee reforms will benefit the entire community.”

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Published February 27, 2024 at 7:54 am (Updated February 27, 2024 at 8:06 am)

Court fee increases to kick in this week

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