As of today, 13th April 2015, adult and corporate offenders will be forced to make a direct contribution to the country’s criminal courts that they are tried in, up to a maximum of £1,200, and with a starting point of £100.
The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 introduced changes to the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 to provide for what has been labelled the ‘Criminal Courts Charges’. The Statutory Instrument was laid before parliament on the 19th March 2015, only four days after other legislative amendments were brought into force which lifted the specified upper limits that magistrates’ courts are allowed to order when determining what fine to impose upon conviction (s.85(1)LASPO 2012 (as amended)).
The new charge has been introduced to provide for the costs of the judiciary and the other costs associated with the upkeep of the country’s courts. These charges will vary depending on if and when the offender pleads guilty; a conviction by a magistrates’ court for a summary offence on a guilty plea will result in a £150 charge to the offender, whilst a trial in the magistrates’ court for an either-way offence will set back the offender £1,000. If the Offender was to enter a guilty plea for an either-way offence, a much lower charge of £180 will be applied. Some commentators are concerned that the courts charge will place undue pressure on innocent people to plead guilty in order to avoid the levy, which, in some circumstances, may be much higher than the punitive fine imposed following conviction for the offence.
The new courts charge will place a further financial strain on offenders, in addition to a long list of other fines and charges that can be imposed following conviction, such as compensation orders, confiscation orders, prosecution legal costs, mandatory Victim Surcharges of £180 and/or punitive fines.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the criminal courts charge would ensure criminals “pay their way”, further commenting “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.”
The Ministry of Justice Impact Assessment estimates that the gross cash inflow from the changes will be over £100m a year from 2017, whilst Law Society president Andrew Caplen described the new charges as ‘outrageous’ and a threat to fair trials.
Default in paying the charges due to wilful refusal or culpable neglect could lead to the last resort sanction of ordering the offender to serve a term of imprisonment as well as charging interest on any outstanding amount. The Regulations can be found here.