The first indications of how the government plans to raise income from convicted offenders following the abolition of the criminal courts charge emerged today.

A Ministry of Justice review of financial impositions on criminal courts will examine new ways of generating additional revenue and enforcing payment orders. 

A terms of reference document published today states that the review will make recommendations ‘with a view to achieving three primary goals’.

Judges will be granted ‘greater discretion’ to set financial impositions and financial penalties will be made ‘a more effective sentencing tool’. The changes will also ensure that funding generated through financial penalties ‘plays an appropriate part - and sustainable - role in meeting court-running costs and reducing the burden on the taxpayer’.

The ministry said the review will produce a report focusing on:

  • The current framework of imposition arrangements, exemptions, discretion, accounting arrangements and legislative provision;
  • Evidence of known information about offenders’ means and current payment arrangements;
  • Domestic and international evidence on the most effective form of financial penalties;
  • The scope to generate additional revenue and how current receipts are allocated; and
  • Modernisation of enforcement services.

The review will attempt to fill the funding gap left by the abolition of the criminal courts charge in December, which levied £150 for a guilty plea in a magistrates’ court and £520 on the defendant if convicted following a not-guilty plea.

When he scrapped the charge in December justice secretary Michael Gove announced that the ministry would also review the entire structure of court-ordered financial impositions for offenders.

Today's announcement suggests that one possibility mooted at the time, a levy on City firms, could now be on the back-burner. The mention of 'modernisation of enforcement' may also imply that outsourcing of fine enforcement, aborted last October, is back on the agenda. 

The review will be led by the ministry and Justice and Courts Policy Group. It will be supported by a MoJ working group of officials including analytical services, HM Courts and Tribunals Service enforcement and corporate finance.

A senior civil service level board will 'oversee progress’ and provide 'strategic direction’ to the review, the document states.

A Law Society spokesperson said: 'We welcomed Michael Gove's abandonment of the criminal courts charge, and look forward to engaging with this review, to ensure that financial penalties are applied appropriately and proportionately.'

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