Criminal courts charge backlash shows just how rubbish Chris Grayling was as Justice Secretary

The no holds barred report was penned by the Justice Committee — a House of Commons select committee made up of MPs, including lawyers Alberto Costa, Andy McDonald, and Victoria Prentis — and it’s pretty brutal.

The criminal courts charge was introduced by section 54 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, a statute introduced to the Commons by the much-hated all-round pantomime villain Grayling, who is also famously responsible for launching the onslaught on legal aid funding.

The Act imposes a mandatory charge of £150-£1200 on guilty offenders when convicted. This money goes towards the court system’s overall running costs, such as paying for judges.

The charge has been met with continued, persistent criticism from the legal profession. The likes of Lady Hale and the Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd have been very vocal in their concerns, and legal commentator David Allen Green urged his Twitter followers to petition the government about the charge.

The Justice Committee has come out with guns blazing in 13 pages of boundless assault on Grayling and his charge. Attacking the law from all angles, the Committee has called for an urgent shake up:

“We would not mourn the early abolition of the criminal courts charge and we recommend that legislation to effect that repeal should be brought forward.”

And the reasons for doing so are endless.

It is, according to the report, “grossly disproportionate”. The criminal court charge is mandatory and fixed — it attaches to all criminal convictions, and cannot be adjusted to reflect the offender’s means. Because the numbers have already been decided by parliament, judges and magistrates have no discretion and no way of resolving this.

The Committee gives the sad example of woman who pleaded guilty to stealing Mars Bars worth 75p:

“She said she stole the item because she ‘had not eaten in days’ after her benefits were sanctioned. She was fined £73, ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge, £85 costs, a £20 victim surcharge and 75p compensation.”

The value of the charge depends on the plea entered by the defendant. Guilty pleas mean smaller fines — sometimes much smaller. An offender that pleads guilty to a summary offence in the Magistrates’ Court will have to pay £150. If the same offender pleads not guilty, but is found guilty anyway, he’ll be charged £520.

The Committee is very concerned that this is drawing innocent people to guilty pleas. It states:

“We are concerned that the charge is having effects which are inimical to the interests of justice, creating perverse incentives which are affecting defendant and sentencer behaviour.”

This has important implications in the human rights context. The Howard League claims:

“[The charge] undermines the right to a fair trial as it may put pressure on people to plead guilty, even if they have not committed an offence.”

The situation is so critical that angry magistrates are even quitting the bench in protest. The report states:

“The Chairman of the Magistrates’ Association told us that over 50 magistrates had resigned because of their objections to the charge.”

The message from the Committee is clear: enough’s enough. Chair Bob Neill urges new Justice Secretary Michael Gove to right the wrongs of his predecessor and scrap the charge:

“[The charge] creates a range of serious problems and benefits no one. We would urge Michael Gove to act on our main recommendation and abolish it as soon as possible.”

Source: Criminal courts charge backlash shows just how rubbish Chris Grayling was as Justice Secretary – Legal Cheek

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8 thoughts on “Criminal courts charge backlash shows just how rubbish Chris Grayling was as Justice Secretary

  1. Roy Beiley

    Justice. An interesting word that. There have of course always been miscarriages of Justice even when the full panoply of the law had been applied. To try and circumvent this time honoured process in the interests of “costs” being reduced is a betrayal of one of the principles which define our country. To this bunch of hypocritical people in this Tory Govt nothing seems to be worth preserving. They are little better than ISIS desecrating the 2000 year old artefacts in the Middke East. They know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

  2. Steve Chapman

    They all look stupid and incompetent if you consider only what they ‘say’ they are doing. They have been consistent though in the results of their policies over the past 5 years and despite reshuffles, the work of their predecessors is not undone. The notable survivor of Cameron’s last cabinet reshuffle in the last government was the retention of Iain Duncan Smith. They regret nothing because their policies have all achieved their underlying purpose

  3. Dez

    The Legal backlash is basically strong common sense comments on yet another ill thought out political rubbish motivated by the greed to save some cash. Pity and shameful that it has got this far without someone somewhere applying that same common sense factor to its progress. I guess this debacle just adds weight to the Lords being the last chance saloon for common sense to be applied to very bad ideas that just get rubber stamped by the Lower House.

  4. chriskitcher

    But the idiot Gove has expressed no desire to remove this stupidity from the system. I just hope that those who voted for this scum are regretting their greedy self interest now that we see what real right wing government means.

  5. Mr David Anthony Penson

    How this inadequate creature ever got to be a Government Minister is beyond me, I have letters from him when he was the Minister in charge of the Department of work and Pensions, telling me how seriously his Department took the issue of Fraud by its providers as they insist on calling them , a few weeks later the police raided the Slough offices of A4E, although I have to admit he does a damn good job of convincing people the opposite of the truth.
    David Penson. Bracknell

Comments are closed.