Justice Committee report concludes that the Government should bring forward legislation to repeal the criminal courts charge.
If the Government is unwilling to abolish or radically reduce the levels of the charge, the Committee recommends that as an
irreducible minimum, judges and magistrates should be given discretion to decide whether to impose the charge, and on the amount, in accordance with individual circumstances.
The Committee's main concerns are:
- The levels of the charge being grossly disproportionate to the means of many defendants and to the gravity of the offences in relation to which it has been imposed
- The lack of discretion given to judges and magistrates on whether to impose the charge and if so at what level, creating unacceptable consequences within the criminal justice system
- The creation of perverse incentives for both defendants and sentencers
- The detrimental impact on victims of crime and on the CPS from reduced awards of compensation and prosecution costs
- The capacity of the charge to raise the revenue predicted by the Government, and the effect on respect for the legal process of levels of non-payment
Justice Committee Chair Bob Neill MP said:
"The evidence we have received has prompted grave misgivings about the operation of the charge, and whether, as currently framed, it is compatible with the principles of justice. In many cases it is grossly disproportionate, it fetters judicial discretion, and creates perverse incentives - not only for defendants to plead guilty but for sentencers to reduce awards of compensation and prosecution costs. It appears unlikely to raise the revenue which the Government predicts.
It 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."
Witnesses to the inquiry who gave oral evidence on the subject were critical of it, as were those who referred to it in their written evidence, except for the Ministry of Justice (PDF 134KB).
For the sake of clarity the Committee is pleased to make clear that it offered the Minister for the Courts and Legal Aid, Shailesh Vara MP, the opportunity to put the Government’s side of the case either at an oral evidence session or by submitting written evidence. Mr Vara provided answers to the Committee’s questions via further written evidence.