Friday, 4 December 2015

Criminal Courts Charge disappears on Christmas Eve ..... government reviewing financial orders

UPDATE 29th January 2016 - Report of Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments raising question over how the charge was removed

Details of the Criminal Courts Charge are in this post of 30th July 2015.   In a speech to the Magistrates' Association, Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor) announced that he had laid in Parliament an amending statutory instrument so that - from the 24th of December - the criminal courts charge will no longer be imposed.

The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 section 54 introduced the Criminal Courts Charge.  Section 54 came into force on 13th April 2015 and, on the same date, the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (Criminal Courts Charge) Regulations 2015 came into force.  It was Paragraph 3 of those regulations which dealt with the amount that had to be ordered and the actual amounts were set out in a Schedule.

Amendment regulations
will come into force on 24th December - The Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (Criminal Courts Charge)(Amendment) Regulations 2015 .  The amendment regulations remove Paragraph 3 and the Schedule from the original regulations so that no amounts are specified for the charge.

The House of Commons Justice Committee were highly critical of the charge (previous post) and it was the subject of a successful regret motion in the House of Lords (previous post).  Interestingly, the Justice Committee thought that primary legislation would be needed to abolish the charge.  The Amendment Regulations seem to have the practical effect of "suspending" the operation of the charge through the expedient of not specifying amounts! This may result in some questions as to whether the approach adopted is legally satisfactory.  On that I express no concluded view.  Update 29th January 2016: The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has queried the method of amending the Regulations - see their Report

In his November 2015 Press Conference, the Lord Chief Justice spoke of a need to review all financial orders that criminal courts can make and the government has clearly decided to proceed with this idea.  Michael Gove informed the Magistrates' Association that:

" .... the Ministry of Justice will be reviewing the entire structure, and purpose, of court-ordered financial impositions for offenders, with a view to considering options for simplification and improvement.

The current array of sanctions and penalties is complex and confusing.

I would therefore like to bring greater simplicity and clarity and I would also like to achieve three other goals.

Firstly, I would like to give the judiciary - including of course the magistracy - greater discretion in setting financial orders.

Second I would like to explore how we can make financial penalties a more effective tool in helping to deliver improved non-custodial sentences.

And my third hope is that we can properly - and fairly - ensure that money raised through financial penalties plays an appropriate - and sustainable - role in supporting taxpayers to meet the costs of running the courts ....."

Further reading ..... Howard League for Penal Reform    The Howard League has compiled a list of dozens of cases, all reported by media, which show why the criminal courts charge was unfair, unrealistic and unjust. 

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