Criminal courts charge campaign
#CriminalCharge campaign – it’s the charge that is criminal
In 2015, the Howard League campaigned to abolish the criminal courts charge. In December 2015 we succeeded and ministers announced the charge would be abolished in time for Christmas.
Why the campaign was so important and what we did to achieve change
A teenager who stole sweets and ice cream worth £5, a woman found begging in a car park and a man who kicked a flower pot after being stabbed are among thousands of people who have been ordered to pay a controversial new charge which penalises the poor and encourages the innocent to plead guilty.
Since April 2015 magistrates and judges have been told they must impose a mandatory criminal courts charge of up to £1,200 on anyone convicted of an offence, whatever their circumstances might be. This is on top of fines, compensation orders, victim surcharges and costs. There are even plans to charge interest and people can be sent to prison if they can’t pay.
This charge is both unfair and unrealistic. Taken as a whole, the criminal courts charge is unjust. The Howard League is calling for it to be suspended immediately, pending legislation for its abolition.
The charge has been introduced to recover some of the cost of administrating criminal courts. In a magistrates’ court, it rises from £150 for pleading guilty to a summary offence to £520 for a conviction after a not guilty plea. In the crown court, the charge stands at £900 for a guilty plea and £1,200 for a conviction after a not guilty plea.
These escalating charges are unfair as they put pressure on people to plead guilty at the earliest opportunity, even if they have not committed an offence.
The mandatory nature of the charge means that sentencers must impose it even when it is clear the person before them does not have the means to pay. We’ve seen cases of petty offences reported in the local media that show this unrealistic charge is making a mockery of the justice system. People who are homeless and begging, addicted to drugs and alcohol or with mental health problems are being given charges when it is unclear how they will ever make the payment.
The injustice of the charge is already making waves and some magistrates have even been reported to be resigning in protest.
The Howard League is campaigning to scrap the criminal courts charge. We are calling on the government to suspend the policy pending legislation to abolish it.
Read the Criminal Court Charge Regret Motion debate in the House of Lords which the Government lost. The Howard League was mentioned on numerous occasions.