Legal offices swamped as government brings back court fees

Filing charges could hurt fight against domestic violence

Lawyers in Spain on Wednesday rushed to file legal procedures ahead of the reintroduction of court filing fees for individuals the following day. Larger companies already had to pay small charges to lodge complaints with the courts.

"If on a normal day we present one action, today, we present seven," said Gema Martín of the law firm Pardos Abogados. "We tried to file all the proceedings we had pending."

The system of fees for individuals -- ranging from 100 to 1,200 euros -- was reinstalled by Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón. A Socialist government had abolished such fees in 1986 to facilitate equal access to the law courts but left them in place for companies.

"I can't put a figure on it, but there has been an increase in the number of appeals filed in order to avoid paying fees," the spokesman for the Judges Association of Vitoria, José Luis Armengol, said.

The legal profession is against the reintroduction of fees and is hoping the appeal against the move the main opposition Socialist Party plans to file with the Constitutional Court will be successful.

Judges pointed out the fee system could work against the fight against gender violence. "To make a complaint to the police about mistreatment doesn't cost anything, but breaking the relationship with the aggressor by filing for divorce and dividing up the assets of the couple will now be more expensive and, therefore, an obstacle for women who are the victims of violence to go ahead with legal proceedings," said Inmaculada Montalbán, the chairwoman of the Observatory Against Domestic and Gender Violence of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), the country's legal watchdog. The initial fee for filing for divorce has been set at 300 euros.

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