Thursday 30 July 2015

Criminal Courts Charge

There are certain situations where the charge may NOT be imposed (see Regulation 2) such as where the court deals with an offence by way of an absolute discharge.  However, in most situations a charge must be imposed.  The Regulations do not provide for any discretion on the part of the judge or magistrates and there is no means test applicable to this charge.  Consequently, some defendants on minimal means will have the charge imposed.

A few examples will illustrate the charge that must be imposed in the Magistrates' Courts:

Albert pleads guilty to careless driving (a Summary Offence) - charge is £150

Barry pleads not guilty to careless driving but is convicted - charge is £520

Charles pleads guilty to theft (an either-way offence) - charge is £180

David pleads not guilty to theft - charge is £1000

These fees are on top of any other financial orders such as compensation, fines, surcharge (so-called "victim's surcharge"), costs.

The legislation contains a power for the magistrates to REMIT the charge (e.g. if the court is  satisfied that the person has taken all reasonable steps to pay it, having regard to the person's personal circumstances) BUT there may be no remission until a period of time has elapsed (2 years if the person liable has applied to the court to remit the charge and, in any other case, 12 months).

There is reason to believe that the courts charge is pressuring some defendants to plead guilty even in cases where they may be not guilty factually or may have a legal defence.  Furthermore, a number of Magistrates have recently resigned from the bench citing the lack of justice inherent in this charge as a reason - The Times 25th July 2015 (£)

The legislation contains provision for interest on the charge if or to the extent that it remains unpaid.

Ministry of Justice Fact sheet 

Law Society Gazette -  Society outrage at 'back door' criminal court fees - the Law Society President described the charges as ‘outrageous’ and a threat to fair trials.

Halsbury's Law Exchange

The Justice Gap

Link added 30th August:

Transform Justice 26th August - How did the criminal court charge get through Parliament?

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