The new Criminal Courts Charge has only been in force for a few months but already people are seeing the effects and campaigners are calling for an urgent review of the controversial new court fees. Click here to read the Chronicle’s report on this and see below for Ben Hoare Bell Partner Kate Meek’s comment.
This story highlights the concerns many have expressed about the new Criminal Courts Charge that came into force for all offences committed after 13th April 2015 with apparently very little publicity beforehand. The Court has no option but to impose the Criminal Courts Charge for all cases where someone is convicted or pleads guilty to an offence.
The charges levied under this scheme range from £100 to £1,200 depending on the type of case and how it is dealt with and in which court. The charge increases significantly if someone has pleaded not guilty and applies regardless of how minor or serious the offence is and regardless of how the court sentences the individual concerned. The charge will apply on top of any other financial penalties the court may impose including a fine, a contribution towards the costs of the prosecution and compensation. There is also a government imposed victim surcharge that again in most cases the court has no option but to impose and itself can range from between £15 and £100 – this does not go to the victim of the particular offence but is used as a contribution to pay for services for victims of crime in general.
The example in the Chronicle article is one of many examples of people being found guilty of a minor offence but who then find themselves with a large debt that often they will struggle to be able to pay or, if they can, will be paid at a very minimal weekly rate. The Ministry of Justice fact sheet about the Criminal Courts Charge says that the charge is designed to contribute towards the administrative costs of running the criminal courts. Of course all defendants whatever their instructions about the case against them have to be advised about this charge and the increase in it if they have a trial but are found guilty. There have to be real concerns that, particularly people on limited incomes, will make decisions about how to progress their case and whether to defend it based not on their guilt or their innocence but on the likely financial penalties that will be imposed if they lose the case.
Several Magistrates have also given their resignation stating that the new court charges mean they are unable to follow a fair and equal justice system.
Blog by Kate Meek, Partner and Head of the Crime Department