A leading West Midlands family lawyer has criticised Government plans for a 650 per cent increase in some court fees, claiming they will affect those who can least afford it.
Jonathan Tougher, a partner at MFG Solicitors, is backing the Law Society's stance in opposing Government plans to raise a further £50 million from court users with the aim of making family and civil courts self-financing.
He said: "For example, a father or mother who wants to see their child is being asked to pay the court a fee of £175, a massive increase from the present £30 that is demanded.
"The cost of seeking a contact order with a child in care will rise seven-fold from £20 to £150. This will hit people on low incomes and those whose morale is at its lowest ebb in cases that are, by their very nature, extremely emotional and fraught."
The Government argues that some charges have not risen since 1993.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Constitutional Affairs said: "The majority of individual fees affected have not risen for at least two years and in some cases more than 12 years.
"There is a system of fee exemptions and remissions to ensure that those least able to afford fees are not denied access to justice, and anyone who qualifies for legal aid has their fees paid for them."
The aim is to increase fees to a level similar to those charged in county courts in cases heard by full-time judges.
But Mr Tougher said: "Those fees are also going up. The cost of issuing a divorce petition which was raised to £210 last year will now be going up to £300."
The fee increases are designed to raise an additional £50 million in one full year, enabling the civil courts to recover all their costs.
About £1 million will be charged to local authorities for child care applications and the rest will be paid by individual court users.
The proposed increases will also apply to all forms of civil claim, including the charges for debt recovery. The cost of lodging a claim will rise from £3.50 to £25, with the costs being added to the debtor's bill if the debt is proven. The fee for seeking "financial relief'' will go up from £30 to £175.
An application to magistrates under the Child Support Act will cost £95, instead of the £10 currently charged, and the cost of a paternity order will rise by £100.
Mr Tougher said: "These massive cost increases are being rail-roaded through. The normal consultation period was cut to two months so that the changes could be made in time for the New Year.
"Both the judiciary and lawyers are united in opposing these increases.
"The Government is arguing its case for full costs recovery, but it is hard to see why courts should not be partially funded by the taxpayer like every other public service.
"Why should justice have to pay its way when no other area of public provision is treated this way?
"Health is not restricted solely to those who can afford it.
"Why should justice be?"