24 November 2015

MPs call for abolition of criminal courts charge

A report from the cross-party group of MPs of the House of Commons Justice Committee has revealed 'grave misgivings' about the criminal courts charge and called for legislation to abolish it.

The controversial charge, which charges defendants £150 for a guilty plea in a magistrates’ court and £520 if convicted following a not guilty plea, has been branded as a ‘levy’ by critics and as often ‘grossly disproportionate’ to the means of many offenders in relation to the seriousness of offences. The charge may be withdrawn after two years if it is apparent the individual cannot afford to pay.

'Perverse incentives' 

The mechanism by which defendants may escape the higher band of the charge by pleading guilty has led to a ‘perverse incentives’ in defendant and sentence behaviour, which in turn have seen knock-on effects to Criminal Prosecution Service costing and victim rewards.

'Grave misgivings' 

Expanding on the findings of the report, Justice Committee chair Bob Neill MP said: ‘The evidence we have received has prompted grave misgivings about the operation of the charge, and whether, as currently framed, it is compatible with the principles of justice.

At judges discretion 

If the government is not minded to abolish the charge, the committee said, it should as an ‘irreducible minimum’ allow magistrates and judges to decide whether to impose the charge and how much to require defendants to pay,' he concluded. Source: Law Society Gazette