28th July 2015
New Criminal Court Fees: The Cost of Crime
Article in response to the following news: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/law/article4505359
In the past if you faced a criminal charge there were certain financial consequences that would follow if you lost your case or pleaded guilty; In addition to any fine imposed, the court could order you to contribute to the costs of the Prosecution and you might be ordered to pay compensation to the victim.
Those charges were all in the discretion of the court that would consider your financial position and sentence overall. Imagine an unemployed single parent who stole to feed their child. It would be very unusual for that Defendant to be ordered to pay any significant financial penalty.
The current position is very different. Even where the court conditionally discharged a defendant because it concluded that no other penalty was required the court would have to order a victim surcharge of £15 and a Criminal Charge of £150 to £180.
The Criminal Charge applies to all offences and breaches committed after 13th April 2015, and is fixed by the type of offence and the plea. A guilty plea in the Magistrates to a summary only offence attracts £150 while a trial in the Magistrates for a more serious matter will raise a charge of £1000. Higher rates apply in the Crown Court.
Andy Cash, a Director in our Crime Department represented an unemployed addict last week who was given a suspended sentence with a community order to try and help his rehabilitation. Despite only having income of £120 per fortnight and already owing the court over £300, the court had to go on to order him to pay a victim surcharge of £80 and Criminal Charge of £180. He now has debts to the court of over £500 and no real prospect of repayment. If he had lost his cases after trial he would now owe over £1500.
There seems to be a general acceptance that the vast majority of these charges will never be recovered. The legislation actually allows courts discretion to write them off 2 years after imposition, but in the meantime there are inevitable consequences;
- Many Defendants will decide not to risk trials where they might have viable defences because of the increased cost;
- Defendants face the trauma of being chased for outstanding monies by private debt collection agencies. When their charges are added individuals are driven deeper into debt and must be more vulnerable to the risk of returning to crime.
- Courts dealing with sentencing lose the ability to pass constructive sentences designed to rehabilitate and reduce the risk of reoffending.
These charges fall disproportionately on the weakest and most vulnerable in society who are also the least able to pay. We can only hope that the new Justice Secretary Michael Gove will see that the taxes created by his predecessor should not be part of an effective Criminal Justice System.