The Court of Appeal has rejected an attempt to avoid the criminal courts charge on the grounds that the offender had served time in prison.

At the Inner London Crown Court in April, HHJ Karu imposed the £900 fee on Stephen Frimpong, who had pleaded guilty to possessing false documents.

Karu directed that the charge be ‘deemed to have been served by way of his sentence of imprisonment’, as Frimpong had been remanded in custody for two weeks before sentence.

After reopening the sentencing and looking into the matter, in June the judge then ordered that the defendant should pay the £900.

Frimpong’s lawyers said Karu, as a circuit judge, was entitled to exercise all the powers of a district judge and entitled to use enforcement mechanisms contained in the Magistrates’ Court Act 1980.

Had the judge correctly understood her powers, they argued, she would have made an order by which the charge would be deemed paid by the term already served. They suggested that the judge’s change of heart was an ‘error as to the scope of her powers’.

The alternative, the defendant argued, was to reinstate a charge that would not be paid, and ignore a course of action that was ‘quick, efficient, and in accordance with the overriding objective as defined in the criminal procedure rules’.

But, sitting in the Court of Appeal in Frimpong v Crown Prosecution Service, Mrs Justice Thirlwall said the judge did not have the powers to take the course of action advocated by the defendant.

Even if Karu was entitled to act as a district judge, it would not have permitted her to deem the charge paid in some way by a sentence of imprisonment or order of committal.

Thirlwall said the imposition of the charge was ‘inevitable’ and noted it was ‘rarely, if ever, proper for a court not to give time to pay’.

She added: ‘If, as we have been told, a practice has developed in which the district judge (magistrates’ courts) imposes an immediate term of imprisonment together with the criminal courts charge and on the same occasion a period of imprisonment in respect of the non-payment of the charge just imposed, this is unlawful and must stop.’

Thirlwall said that, as the appeal against sentence had been unsuccessful, the court was required to impose a further charge of £200.

The criminal courts charge is set to be dropped on 24 December as the government looks at alternative ways for offenders to help fund the criminal justice system.