A charity today called for an urgent review of criminal courts charges after collating cases which it says prove the fees are ‘unrealistic and unfair’.
The Howard League for Penal Reform said examples of people charged £150 for a guilty plea included a homeless man who stole a drink worth 99p, a stab victim who kicked over a flower pot and a homeless woman convicted of begging.
The Ministry of Justice introduced the new charges in March. Defendants convicted by a magistrates’ court for a summary offence on a guilty plea are charged £150. Conviction in the magistrates’ court at trial of a summary offence incurs a £520 charge.
In the Crown court, a conviction on a guilty plea costs £900, while those convicted at a trial on indictment pay £1,200. The government stated in March that it wanted to ensure that criminals contribute towards the cost of their court cases.
Last week it was reported that some magistrates have resigned as a result of the charges.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, said the charges are doing nothing to reduce crime and ‘trapping’ poor people with debts they cannot afford to pay.
‘Up and down the country, people are being brought to court for minor misdemeanours and being ordered to pay a mandatory charge regardless of their circumstances,’ she said. ‘Some are homeless. Some have addictions. Many will be unable to pay. But the MoJ is poised to waste money it does not have on pursuing the debts.’
The government has committed to a review of the charges within three years, and last month justice secretary Michael Gove urged caution before rushing to judgement on how they have worked.
He told the House of Commons justice committee: ‘At the moment, while a number of concerns have been raised about the charge for those found guilty, I think it is only fair to see what the operation of that charge is like in the courts before coming to a judgement.’
An MoJ spokesperson said: ‘It is right that convicted adult offenders who use our criminal courts should pay towards the cost of running them. The introduction of this charge makes it possible to recover some of the costs of the criminal courts from these offenders, therefore reducing the burden on taxpayers.’