Justice Committee calls for criminal court charge to be scrapped

Committee said the charge was 'grossly disproportionate' to the means of many offenders


The Justice Committee has today published a report calling for the criminal court charge to be scrapped.

The charge, which was introduced in April, requires convicted criminals in England and Wale to pay between £150 and £1,200 towards the cost of their case, on top of other levies such as fines.

The aim is ostensibly to recover some of the cost of criminal courts to fund courts within a reformed Criminal Justice System, and to make offenders ‘face the cost they impose on the taxpayer’. The charge is not means tested, and defendants who fail to pay risk going to prison (on top of other sentences).

The Committee said:

“We have been persuaded by the evidence we received that there are a number of issues of serious concern arising from the charge as currently framed, and we have grave misgivings about it.”

The report has been welcomed by the Howard League for Penal Reform, which has been campaigning against the charge since it was introduced.

The charity has compiled a list of cases which it says demonstrate the ‘unfair, unrealistic and unjust’ nature of the policy, including a woman who ‘had not eaten in days’ but was ordered to pay more than £300 for stealing a 75p pack of Mars bars, and a homeless woman who was told to find £200 for begging in a car park.

The Howard League has also said that the charge ‘puts pressure on people to plead guilty’, as it rises from £150 for a guilty plea for a summary offence in a magistrates’ court to £520 for a conviction after a not guilty plea. The Committee has also acknowledged this, saying today:

“We are concerned that the charge is having effects which are inimical to the interests of justice, creating perverse incentives which are affecting defendant and sentencer behaviour.”

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, said today:

“Rather than wasting money it does not have on pursuing debts that will not be repaid, the Ministry of Justice should take the sensible decision and suspend this policy immediately, pending legislation to end it altogether.”

“We welcome the well-argued and temperate report from the Justice Committee and we urge the Lord Chancellor to act on its recommendation, to repeal this unjust legislation.”

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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