Society outrage at ‘back door’ criminal court fees

Topics: Courts business,Government & politics

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  • Andrew Caplen

Suspects pleading not guilty in the Crown court will risk paying a court fee of £1,200 if convicted under guidelines slipped into legislation without debate in the final days of the current parliament.

Law Society president Andrew Caplen (pictured) described the new charges as ‘outrageous’ and a threat to fair trials.

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The new set of criminal court charges comes into force from 13 April after being laid before parliament last week.

Currently, judges can require criminals to pay fines and costs, while convicted individuals have to pay a mandatory victim of crime surcharge of up to £120.

The charges follow the introduction earlier this month of a new 5% levy for civil claims over £10,000.

The new criminal court charges were laid as a statutory instrument enabled by a clause of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act, which was granted royal assent in February.

Defendants convicted by a magistrates’ court for a summary offence on a guilty plea will be charged £150. Conviction in the magistrates’ court at trial of a summary offence will incur a £520 charge.

Those convicted of an either-way offence at a magistrates’ court trial will be charged £1,000.

In the Crown court, a conviction on a guilty plea will be charged £900, while those convicted at a trial on indictment will have to pay £1,200.

The charges have already been criticised for being likely to encourage innocent people to plead guilty.

In a statement on the charges, justice secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘From my first day in this job I have been clear that people must have confidence in our justice system. We’re on the side of people who work hard and want to get on, and that is why these reforms will make sure that those who commit crime pay their way and contribute towards the cost of their court cases.’

But solicitors have asked why the decision appears to have been made with such haste and an apparent lack of consultation.

The ability to change criminal court charges has long been included in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act, but as recently as a year ago it was reported that charges would be capped at £600. There are also questions about how the government will ensure the charges are collected from those convicted of petty offences.

Caplen told the Gazette that the proposed charges are ‘outrageous’ and remove all elements of discretion.

He added: ‘Although this will not affect the robust advice that solicitors give to those who maintain their innocence, the differential in the charge for a guilty and not guilty plea may well affect the decision made by individual defendants.

‘We are unaware of there having been any form of consultation as to these amounts. It is particularly disturbing that the government has tabled these regulations, which will be subject to no debate, in the final week of this parliament.’

Justin Rivett, solicitor and Crown court advocate at Sussex firm Warren’s, said: ‘This is one of the most significant changes ever to be made to the sentencing process and it has been brought in by the back door, by way of a statutory instrument, thus avoiding any appropriate scrutiny, debate and challenge.

‘It has received virtually no media attention to date, unlike the recent changes made to civil court fees.

‘The effect of the charges is to impose a very significant additional mandatory financial penalty on defendants, regardless of the seriousness of the offence or the defendant’s financial or personal circumstances.’

Readers' comments (28)

  • Well if its any consolation, this is exactly the same dilemma Solicitors face when deciding whether to argue their innocence before the SDT, or consider the economically less disastrous option of taking a Regulatory Settlement from the SRA and compromising their honesty, integrity and record.

    What price justice ?

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  • At least Grayling is consistent - but what an awful way for a Lord Chancellor to behave?

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  • There was a day, not long ago, when we had the most revered and respected legal system in the world. Now........others are laughing at us.....and no wonder! This latest money making vehicle is outrageous....and I suspect it will not be the last.
    I would love to be asked to write The Graylord's CV.
    I remember him 4 or 5 years ago when he supported the owners of a B&B who refused to allow a gay couple stay........

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  • "...questions about how the government will ensure the charges are collected from those convicted of petty offences".

    How do you make them pay? Easy, emulate 'Money Claims Online'. It's sold like some special offer "get your money back" and Online, one sentence stating "she owes me money, Guv" will do. While photocopies of bags of Tile Adhesive can be included, the two words "owes money" are more than enough to get the wheels of the Bandwagon quickly rolling down the slippery slope of "Justice".

    Once the Deputy District Judge (maybe part-time PI Solicitor) agrees that "she owes you money Guv" that's it. Any defence is as difficult as making a Professional Negligence Claim and as equally unlikely to succeed. You can say he's ruined my Hallway and Bathroom as often as you like but it falls on deaf ears as did "I believe you have been negligent". Once the Deputy District Judge has automatically agreed with the Money Claims 'client' then that's it, the relentless, automatic process quickly slides down to the Bailiff stage.

    If the 'big guys' don't get you trembling and weak at the knees (with fear) then the ticking 'extortion' meter will, as it mecilessly clocks up pounds for every minute delay in 'paying up'. Pleas of not quilty, unfair, unjust have become a lost cause as you desperately search for old credit cards, money fallen down the settee or anything else that might stop them stripping your home bear or evicting you. And it's all done in secret with not even a trace of the Money Claim's 'client's' identity or reasons for doing it.

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  • ILL SAY IT AGAIN-- IT IS NOW IMMORAL TO VOTE CONSERVATIVE.

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  • Well there you have it folks, damned if you DO and damned if you DONT and straight back we go to those good old draconian days when you got slung into the River if suspected of a crime where if you DROWNED, then sorry about that you were clearly INNOCENT

    And

    If you swam and survived, then you got burnt at the stake because clearly you must be a bunch of evil witches

    And so what you see here are "The Lunatics running the Asylum"

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  • So someone on benefits who has been sanctioned, probably because they can't understand one of the endless forms that have to be completed, steals a pack of bacon to feed their children. So now not only will they be fined and have to pay costs, they will also have to pay a court fee, over which the magistrate has no discretion. So, still no money to feed the kids but Grayling and his ilk will be happy. Makes one want to weep.

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  • so if somebody is convicted of a financial crime will the court fee payable come from "proceeds of crime" if so will the MOJ be entitled to retain them or will it have to report

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  • Locally it has become very clear that CPS are trying to keep as many cases in Magistrates Court as possible (some very dodgy thoughts on suitability for summary trial). Am not sure that the difference between fee of £1000 and £1200 on conviction after trial is going to be main consideration if choosing to elect. It's just come to me - this is the new area for raising taxes!

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  • This parliamentary subterfuge shows quite clearly that Mr Grayling is unfit for the office of Lord Chancellor. It is quite clear that this is an attempt to persuade people to plead guilty.
    Those who appear in the Criminal Courts are not volunteers they have no choice.
    However Mr Grayling your desire to slip this in through the back door without consultation may backfire on you how are these payments to be enforced?
    Do you really think that those appearing in your courts have the means or desire to pay?
    Oh! Of course I hear you say we will enforce these payments through the courts, well how much will that cost? You and your advisors appear to have overlooked the fact that the only realistic sanction open to the courts is imprisonment.
    We will therefore see greater costs being spent on enforcement and a vast increase in the prison population. Far from raising money you may well have aimed both barrels at your own feet or the feet of your advisors.
    One last thought, who now wants to apply for one of your non coveted duty contracts, there previously were sound commercial and common sense reasons for not applying
    1. No guarantee of work volume ( hardly helped yourself on that one with this piece of political shenanigans.
    2. No guarantee on value to be received ( if you do this with court fees you will doubtless do the same with Legal Aid rates over the period of the contract which people will be locked into)

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