Future Law

Illinois Supreme Court Simplifies Court Fee System

court feeEarlier this month, the Illinois Supreme Court took steps to make paying court fees more manageable. The Court announced changes to the assessment system by which fees, fines and other court costs are paid by litigants in civil and criminal cases. The goal is to address the confusion, inconsistency and financial hardship caused by the previous structure, and make the justice system more accessible.

The changes were proposed by a Statutory Court Fee Task Force after a wide-ranging study that found litigant filing costs in civil cases and defendant court fees in criminal cases could lead to excessive financial burden. This burden was particularly significant for those near the poverty level. The study also found inconsistency in fee structure for the same proceedings across counties in Illinois.

The new system is a result of Public Act 100-0987, which was passed by the legislature in 2018 to simplify the imposition, collection and distribution of court assessments. The Civil Assessment Schedules as well as fee waivers in amended Rule 298 and new Rule 404 will be impacted.

The changes will go into effect on July 1, 2019. The new court fee assessment structure, not including the waivers, expires on January 1, 2021.

“Addressing the tangle of fees, fines, surcharges and other costs faced by civil and criminal litigants has been one of the most vexing challenges confronting our justice system. Today’s reforms represent a giant step forward in addressing that challenge,” said Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier in a press release. “The court is confident that implementing these changes will help us achieve a system of justice that is easier to administer, more consistent in its application, and more accessible by the People of Illinois.”

The Rule 298 amendment expands the existing civil fee waiver provision to allow partial waivers for litigants who may not qualify for a full waiver. New Rule 404 creates a similar full and partial-fee waiver for criminal defendants.

The Civil Assessment Schedules simplify the current statutory fee provisions and identify the maximum amount that can be assessed in each civil case category. County boards will implement court fee amounts according to the new schedules.

Illinois isn’t the only state reassessing its court fee system. Washington lawmakers passed legislation last year that lifts some cost obligations from those who qualify as “indigent” (e.g., the homeless and mentally ill), and revamps certain penalties for those who are unable to pay.

How do you think the changes will impact access to justice? Include your comments below.

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