Crime pays…or does it?

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I didn’t expect to be commenting on policy so soon but then along came the Criminal Court Charge – a policy so absurd it dare not be ignored.

The first swathes of defendants affected by the Charge are just starting to seep through the system now.
This is a policy  introduced by the last Parliament as a way of making offenders convicted of criminal offences pay for the proceedings of which they are subject.
Costs very depending on the type of hearing – magistrates/crown/plea/trial, but what they all have in common is there is no discretion. Judges must impose the levy on any convicted adult offender who committed an offence after April 13 2015. Costs range from around £150 for a summary guilty plea at Magistrates all the way up to £1,200 for a Crown Court trial.

Some might support the idea of criminals contributing to the costs of running the very courts needed to prosecute them. All well and good. But this policy is so flawed were it to face a trial it would stand convicted of utter absurdity, thus finding itself subject to a Criminal Court Charge.

My first experience of the Charge saw a man jailed for 12 months for attempted robbery then hit with a £900 bill. That was after an early guilty plea, meaning a single appearance at Birmingham Crown Court.
I didn’t see his means form but I’m guessing this bloke, if he’s trying to rob a mobile phone from a drunk guy in Birmingham City Centre, isn’t rolling in cash.

And therein lies the problem.
Bearing in mind defendants already face fines, compensation, prosecution costs and victim surcharges – which will all take priority – I would be amazed if this policy rakes in a penny for the courts. By the time the two years expire how much will this guy have paid, considering he’s on porridge for 26 weeks?
What happens where defendants are sentenced to years behind bars? How will they pay? With meagre prison wages?

Repeat offenders will rack up these charges so fast they will just sit in an account, never shrinking until they are written off as a lost cause. But imposing them, tracking them and hounding defendants will take time and money from an already overstretched system.
As I Tweeted at the time of the hearing this is creating pointless and costly admin.
As the dubious looking Judge in court said: “I’m not saying anything on tape.”

The whole thing smacks of political posturing around being tough on crime without actually achieving a thing.
I’ve read some analysis suggesting these fees might force defendants to plead guilty, where otherwise they would challenge allegations, in order to avoid the extra cost.
I’m not sure that will be the case as these costs don’t apply if you are acquitted, so a successful not guilty plea would be worthwhile.
My biggest problem with this is the utter absurdity at the prospect of penniless defendants being hit with un-payable charges that will eventually be dropped anyway.
If this is the calibre of policy to be expected from the MoJ our court system is in for a rocky ride indeed.

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