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LEGAL AFFAIRS

Cabinet eliminates some court fees, reduces others for individuals

No charge for mutually-agreed divorces, eviction cases

Just two months after the Popular Party government introduced new court fees for all kinds of lawsuits, the cabinet on Friday approved a partial repeal following widespread protests, including from judges and the Ombudsman.

 Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said the decision was acknowledgment of “important” citizen demands.

The regional government of Andalusia, ruled by the Socialist Party, has lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Court on the grounds that the fees are “abusive and unfair.”

“Access to the courts now depends on citizens’ credit cards,” said the congressional party spokeswoman, Soraya Rodríguez.

The new fees will now be reduced across the board for individuals, and eliminated altogether in a few cases such as mutually agreed divorces or home evictions. People who are eligible for the exemption but have paid fees over the last two months will be reimbursed, according to the new Free Justice Law that will reform the short-lived Fees Law.

Under the new rules, when the plaintiff is appealing an administrative fine, such as a ticket for a traffic violation, the court fee can never be more than 50 percent of the total amount of the fine. This is meant to rectify one of the situations that has drawn the most criticism about the recently approved fees: the infamous 100-euro traffic fine that now costs 200 euros in court fees to appeal. From now on, it will cost 50 euros.

The new legislation reduces the variable part of the court fees for any given legal procedure. In the last two months, this variable amount (calculated as a percentage of the value of the assets at stake) could be as high as 10,000 euros; following the latest changes, it can never go higher than 2,000 euros for individuals.

Sources in the team of advisors to Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón admitted that this latest decision represents a step back for the government, but insisted that the “model, the idea that the litigant has to partially take on financial responsibility for the administration of justice” remains in place, and that this is the prevailing model “in most European countries.”

The new Free Justice Law also incorporates more beneficiaries to the reduced fees system, since it raises the maximum income level for eligibility and adds new groups such as victims of domestic violence and people who have suffered serious accidents.

The fees enacted two months ago brought state coffers 17.9 million euros in the month of January.