The House of Commons Justice Select Committee, of which I am a member, published a report today calling for criminal court charges to be abolished.
The Committee’s main concerns are:
• The levels of the charge being grossly disproportionate to the means of many defendants and to the gravity of the offences in relation to which it has been imposed;
• The lack of discretion given to judges and magistrates on whether to impose the charge and if so at what level, creating unacceptable consequences within the criminal justice system;
• The creation of perverse incentives for both defendants and sentencers;
• The detrimental impact on victims of crime and on the CPS from reduced awards of compensation and prosecution costs; and
• The capacity of the charge to raise the revenues predicted by the Government, and the effect on respect for the legal process of levels of non-payment.
The criminal court charges are disproportionate to the crime that is committed. The charges also undermine our criminal justice system as both defendants and sentencers are being given perverse incentives.
People who are facing trial in Mold Crown Court could have to pay £900 to £1,200 depending on their plea. These charges are not recouping the costs that were promised by the Department for Justice, and are failing to take into account people’s circumstances. Having a disproportionate impact on people.
During the Committee’s evidence sessions I was told of a case of a 32 year old woman who admitted to stealing a four pack of Mars Bars worth 75p. She said she had stolen them because she “had not eaten in days” after her benefits were sanctioned. She was fined £73, ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge, £85 costs, a £20 victim surcharge, and 75p compensation. This in no way reflects the crime and that is one of the many reasons why they should be axed.
What are Criminal Courts Charges?
Section 54 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 places a duty on the Secretary of State to impose a mandatory charge on offenders convicted of a criminal offence, intended to help cover the ‘relevant court costs’ of the proceedings. These include the cost of the judiciary and the rest of the system of courts but do not cover defence or prosecution costs.
The charge is in addition to other financial sanctions which may be imposed on convicted persons, including a discretion to impose fines on, and compensation or cost against, a convicted individual alongside a mandatory victim surcharge, the amount of which depends on the sentence passed. The new charge is mandatory and fixed, regardless of the offence of the financial circumstances of the defendant. The amount of the charge depends on the court in which the case is heard and is higher for those convicted after entering a plea of not guilty than for those who pleaded guilty.
Charges range from £150 to £1200