Victim Surcharge increased; however still no discretion for sentencers
It has been announced that as from the 8th April 2016 the Victim Surcharge is to be increased. The surcharge is a sum of money that everyone must pay when convicted by the Courts of a criminal offence. The increases, which come only a few months after the Criminal Courts Charge was withdrawn, are likely to lead to further unfairness.
The surcharge was introduced in 2007 and was was initially only payable by those people who were fined by the Courts. In 2012, the system was extended so that everyone found guilty of an offence was liable to pay it. The new increases mean that for those who are fined, the surcharge is still calculated at 10% of the fine imposed however the minimum amount payable is now £30 and the maximum amount is £170. For defendants who are made subject to a community order such as unpaid work or a rehabilitation activity requirement, the amount payable will now be £85. The surcharge also applies to people sent to prison. For those sentenced to less than 6 months the amount to be paid is £115, for those sentenced to more than 6 months it is £140. The figure for those people sentenced to in excess of 2 years imprisonment is now £170. The same sum is also payable by defendants sentenced to life imprisonment.
In a limited number of cases the Court does have discretion not to impose the surcharge. However, in the majority of cases it must be imposed and there is absolutely no discretion as to the amount payable. The Court cannot take into account either a person’s circumstances or ability to pay. The surcharge is just one of a number of financial orders that a defendant can be made subject to at the conclusion of a case. The Court can also impose fines, compensation and costs. The reality is that many people appearing before the Courts are just not capable of paying the sums of money that are being ordered. Increasingly Magistrates Courts seem to be dealing with people who have had their benefits stopped or who are not entitled to claim benefits, people who have mental health related difficulties and others in very difficult circumstances. Clearly people who are convicted of offences must be punished but they must also be dealt with justly.
When the ill-fated Criminal Courts Charge was withdrawn in December 2015 it was stated that the Courts would be given “greater discretion in setting financial orders”. When are those imposing sentences going to be entrusted with this discretion?
Written by David Philpott