Justice Minister Helen Grant has announced that under new rules all criminals will pay towards supporting victims of crime. The rules will affect offences committed on or after 1 October 2012.
A victim surcharge was first implemented in April 2007 through the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Surcharge No. 2) Order 2007 (“the 2007 Order”). It required ordering an offender to pay a flat rate of £15 following a conviction.
In January 2012 the consultation paper “Getting it Right for Victims and Witnesses” was presented to Parliament with its fundamental aim being the proper protection and support for victims of crime. It stated that victims of crime must be able to rely on swift, sure justice which punished offenders properly. It required that victim support should be properly funded and be paid for by the offenders rather than the tax payer.
On 2 July 2012 the Government published a response to the consultation and laid secondary legislation before Parliament to increase the value of the surcharge ordered to pay fines and apply them to a wider number of disposals. A Court must now order offenders under 18 years of age to pay a victim surcharge ranging from between £10 – £20 dependant upon the type of sentence received. Offenders over the age of 18 will be ordered to pay a victim surcharge ranging from between £15 – £120 depending on their type of sentence.
The victim surcharge currently raises £10m annually but the aim is to increase this by an additional £50m each year. The Court can apply to the Department for Work and Pensions to make deductions from an offender’s benefits in order to enforce payment. The money raised will go to support local organisations that support victims, including charities that support rape victims and victims of domestic violence, hate crime, burglary and other violent crimes such as manslaughter and murder.
Fines are calculated on a person’s income, which will be appropriate to the level of income an offender receives, however, victim surcharges are fixed and will impact most heavily on the less well off. In theory, some people may have no choice but to turn to crime whch would only make their situation worse. Will these new rules really break the cycle?
Statistics show that for January to March of this year the Government is still owed £593m in unpaid fines, including victim surcharges. Could one of the reasons be that some offenders cannot actually afford to pay their fines?
What is also new from this change is that those offenders who previously paid for their crimes through community orders or a lengthy custodial sentence, for example, will now be hit in the pocket as well.
Although the proper protection and support for victims of crime is of the utmost importance and offenders do need to be punished accordingly, is this really the right way to make them pay back?