<9>In April 2015 the Government introduced the Criminal Courts Charge. This requires everyone who either pleads guilty or is found guilty at Court to pay a fixed charge. The Courts have no discretion about the imposition of the Charge whatever a persons circumstances and however they are dealt with. It is payable in addition to any other penalties imposed. Details of the Charge can be found here.
It is clear that the Criminal Courts Charge is both unfair and may very well lead to injustice. Here is a copy of the letter David Philpott, Director at Olliers, sent to George Osborne who is his Member of Parliament asking him to support the campaign to abolish the Charge.
David Philpott’s Letter to His Member of Parliament, George Osborne
16th September 2015
Mr George Osborne
House of Commons
Dear Mr Osborne,
As one of your constituents and a criminal defence solicitor I am writing to ask you to support the campaign to abolish the Criminal Courts Charge.
The Charge was introduced in April 2015 and requires both the Magistrates Court and Crown Court to impose a mandatory sum upon anyone either pleading guilty or being found guilty of an offence. This is in addition to payments of compensation, the victim surcharge, prosecution costs and any other penalties imposed from fines to terms of imprisonment. The sums payable are fixed and range from £100 for someone admitting breaching a court order in the Magistrates Court to £1200 for someone being found guilty after trial in the Crown Court. The Courts have absolutely no discretion about imposing the Charge and the amount that must be paid whatever a persons circumstances. This inevitably leads to unfairness.
In the past week I have dealt with a number of cases where the imposition of the charge has been utterly inappropriate. These include a man with mental health problems who failed to leave an area when directed to do so by an officer. For the offence itself he was given a conditional discharge but he was also ordered to pay the Criminal Courts Charge of £150 with the sum being deducted from his benefits. A man without any previous convictions pleaded guilty to stealing a bottle of wine from a supermarket. In that case the imposition of the £150 Charge virtually doubled the amount he had to pay to the Court. The Charge is also payable by those who are sent to prison. I represented someone who pleaded guilty to an assault and was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment. Upon his release, he will be subject to periods of licence and supervision by the Probation Service for 12 months. He will have to pay compensation to the victim. Is it really appropriate that he should also pay a further amount of £180 at a time when his financial circumstances are likely to be extremely difficult?
Not only is the Criminal Courts Charge unfair, particularly to those who are vulnerable and in the most difficult of financial situations, it will also lead to injustice. It is clear to me that people are now having to consider whether they can afford to plead not guilty at Court and run the risk of having to pay the charge if found guilty. In the Magistrates Court individuals charged with some offences, including a number of very minor matters, have to decide whether to plead guilty and accept having to pay a Charge in the sum of £180 or alternatively risk having to pay a Charge of £900 if found guilty as well as significantly increased court costs and any other penalties imposed. It is inevitable that there will be people who will feel that they have no choice but to enter a guilty plea whatever the nature of the evidence against them and the merits of their case.
Those highlighting the unfairness of the Charge include members of the Judiciary and representatives of Magistrates. Press reports suggest that at least 50 Magistrates have resigned in protest. The Criminal Courts Charge was introduced by statutory instrument in haste and is ill thought out. The Ministry of Justice’s own impact assessment indicates that the cost of imprisoning people for non-payment of the charge could be around £5m per annum. The assessment also conceded that inevitably vast sums of money will go uncollected and will have to be written off.
The Criminal Courts Charge is unworkable, ill-advised and should be reversed. I ask you to use your considerable influence to bring about an end to it.
David Philpott – Criminal Defence Lawyer
Admitted as a Solicitor in 1992 David has specialised in criminal defence work throughout his career. He has a formidable reputation as an advocate and heads the Department dealing with Magistrates Court cases and Police Station attendances. Since its introduction, David has been a passionate campaigner against the unfairness of the Criminal Courts Charge.