Updated 29 July: The Spanish Constitutional Court has ruled that the “justice tax” is unconstitutional, and has overturned the measures introduced by the ill-fated former justice minister, Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón, whose restrictive abortion measures have already been overturned, leading to his resignation a couple of years ago (link). With regard to the justice tax, the court said that it clearly acted as a deterrent for public access to the courts, and moreover, had not resulted in the monies raised getting to the justice sector as was originally planned. Even in those areas where the Court said the tax could remain, generally in civil administrative cases, it was disproportionately levied, and will be reduced. This does not mean that taxes already paid will be refunded, but from now on, in the majority of cases, justice will be free of, or with a much reduced, tax levied in addition to the already onerous costs of courts, procuradores, and abogados.
Original post 27 December 2012: It’s something that hopefully few, if any, of us will ever need to encounter, but it’s something we need to be aware of, I think. The Spanish Government has introduced a “justice tax”, additional to existing legal costs, and to be paid in advance by anyone taking legal action. The charge has existed in some form previously, but was only levied on businesses with a set turnover. It will now, however, be something all of us will have to pay. The measure, introduced by Justice minister Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón, is highly controversial and has been opposed by virtually the whole of the legal profession, including judges, as well as citizen groups and opposition parties, but was passed into law on 17 December.
The charge is complicated because it is not a fixed fee. The press has been reporting calculated examples such as a €200 fee to challenge a €100 traffic fine, €1,280 for a standard divorce, or €3,800 for someone reclaiming €100,000 from a bank. More relevant, perhaps, to foreign property owners, is the example of a €2,100 community charge debt, where the fee to reclaim it would be just short of half, at €921. Generally, however, it appears that the costs will be between €100 and €1,200 for some kinds of cases, with others attracting a variable fee of 0.5% of the value of the case itself.
Some cases will be exempt, namely those involving criminal procedures, at least at the first legal level, those relating to fundamental rights, and those affecting children. Those who can prove (no doubt to onerous requirements) that they cannot afford the fee will also be exempt, as more controversially, will be public and governmental administrations. Justice comes at an even higher price now, it seems.