Court fees seem to be inseparable from the civil procedure. The Polish fee system in civil matters is regulated by the Act on court fees in civil law cases of July 28, 2005. The word “system” seems a bit far fetched here. Having read the Act and after a moment’s reflection, it is hard to grasp the main idea of this regulation. In the course of drafting the Act on court fees in civil cases, the main issue was not resolved, namely what was the purpose of the court fees: a donation constituting the court’s remuneration, a fee for the actions of a public authority, a tool for limiting the number of cases and procedural litigiousness counteractions?
The first tradition goes as far back as the middle ages when the king granted the feudal lords or towns the privilege to perform judicial functions and collect fees on this account – fees that were usually high. Today, such approach would simply mean the treatment of court fees as a public contribution designated for obtaining material revenues for the state budget. The second variant that would make court fees closer to the fees for administrative acts, seems to be pragmatic although it deprives the court of its importance by treating the performance of judicial functions as a service. The third approach may accompany the two approaches described above. It is worth remembering that a fourth option exists – namely acknowledgement that the citizens and corporations have already paid taxes and that the state’s main duty is to provide judicial functions, and therefore, court fees should not be collected at all.
The wording of the Act on court fees in civil transactions does not allow the definitive provision of any of the above responses, except for the obvious exclusion of the last possibility. The fees are relatively high and in a majority of litigations amount to 5% of the value of the claim, up to PLN 100 000, notwithstanding the complexity of a dispute. To be precise, the fee is imposed on the pleading filed in the case, namely the pleading initiating the proceedings (statement of claim, motion) and the pleadings associated with the appeal. The amount of work of the court, to which the party could subsequently file further pleadings, does not matter here. Currently, as I have mentioned in my first post, the number of pleadings will decrease, which does not change the conclusion on the independence of fees from the complexity of the case and the amount of work involved.
Court fees have the form of proportionate/relative, temporary and fixed fees. The latter ones are used mainly in disputes over non-financial rights. One of the most troublesome solutions is the so-called basis fee in the amount of PLN 30, the application of which has been the subject of several decisions of the Supreme Court. In respect of fixed fees existing in at least several dozens of categories of cases, it is difficult to find any consistencies. From the point of view of a party to the proceedings, the preparation for a court dispute requires laborious reading of regulations, which are in fact the direct heirs of the tables of court fees operational as early as during the period of the Partition of Poland (1795-1918). One can easily convince oneself in this regard by comparing the regulations operational after 1919 regarding court fees (in total at least 6 main acts, decrees and regulations) with the revoked regulations from the Partition period.
It is hard to know why we have to pay PLN 100 for a complaint against the actions of a court enforcement officer, whilst for example, the fee for the application for issuance of an enforcement title in enforcement proceedings to replace a lost one would cost us only PLN 40. A motion for separation would cost us PLN 600, whilst for the statement of claim regarding invalidation of marriage we would pay PLN 200.
The above remarks lead us to several conclusions. If we do not know the purpose of the court fees, (political decision) at least the operational regulations could be made more rational by way of: reducing the proportionate/relative fees at least by a factor of five, establishing one fee in registry and typical family and inheritance cases, resigning from the basic fee which does not serve anybody and only makes the fee system more complicated. A braver step would be to determine the fee based on the amount of the work of the court upon collection of only a temporary fee, and deciding on the amount of the fee after the termination of the proceedings. Each practitioner is aware that both divorce cases and commercial cases can be terminated at the second hearing but can also carry on for years. Should the latter case correctly burden the parties and whether only the parties to the proceedings are responsible for the length of the proceedings, is the question for the next post.