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Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Criminal Courts Charge: An Outrage to Justice


Anyone convicted of a criminal offence within England and Wales faces the eye-watering prospect of paying up to £1,200 towards court running costs, under new rules that came into force earlier this week.

According to Justice Secretary Chris Grayling the Criminal Courts Charge is designed to make criminals "pay their way", but the charge could prove particularly punitive for those accused of trivial summary offences like TV licence evasion.

The new rules, which came into force on 13th April 2015, mean that anyone convicted of a summary offence - those heard only at the Magistrates' Court - will face a charge of £150 if they plead guilty from the outset, or £720 if they are convicted after initially pleading not guilty. 

The charges are even steeper for those convicted of either-way or indictable offences at the Magistrates' or Crown Court.

The mandatory charge is not means-tested, so an unemployed first-time offender faces exactly the same charge as a wealthy repeat offender. Courts will still be able to impose fines, costs and the victim surcharge in addition to the new charge.

As mentioned earlier, the new charge is particularly bad news for anyone convicted of trivial summary offences like TV licence evasion. 

Previously, a person pleading guilty to TV licence evasion might have faced a fine of around £100 (although often lower), £120 costs and £20 victim surcharge. The total amount payable would therefore have been in the region of £240. 

Even if they had pleaded not guilty, but were later found guilty by summary trial, it is unlikely the total amount payable would have exceeded £400.

Under the new system, a person pleading guilty to TV licence evasion would pay an additional £150, bringing the total cost to £390.

But if the defendant was convicted after a not guilty plea they would have to pay an additional £720. With the higher fine and costs associated with conviction by trial, the total amount payable could be almost £1,200.


Defendants accused of summary offences therefore face a stark decision: Do they plead guilty, whether or not they actually are, simply because it's the most economical option?

Richard Monkhouse, Chairman of the Magistrates' Association, is sceptical about the new charge: "Our members had concerns about this last year because, in our opinion, the potential impact of charges on defendants' pleas needed more analysis. There are ongoing concerns about criminal fine collection rates generally speaking, with efficiency in collection varying from area to area, so now that this is law, relevant agencies need to ensure proper processes are in place to make this work.

"Considering there is no judicial discretion in imposing these charges, our members are concerned it may make dealing with cases more difficult, not least because many offences have a financial element in the first place. It would be helpful to examine the impact of this change in say six months to see what works and what doesn’t."

Members of the legal profession have similar concerns. Speaking to The Law Society Gazette, Society President Andrew Caplan described the new charges as "outrageous" and "a threat to fair trials".

Mr Caplan added: "We are unaware of there having been any form of consultation as to these amounts. It is particularly disturbing that the Government has tabled these Regulations, which will be subject to no debate, in the final week of this Parliament."

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Edit (11/8/2015): We have just written a further post on this subject, which you can read here.

7 comments:

Swipe said...

Even more reason to never give a visiting goon the time of day. If you don't know who's at the door keep it shut.

Götter Dämmerung said...

Unfortunately not everyone has that luxury Swipe, especially those with shared hallways, drives etc.
Of course no one should piggy back entry through a communal door or get another tenant to grant them access into a building by buzzing other properties until someone lets them in or pretending to be someone else but they do...

Regarding this Criminal Courts Charge whilst it wasn't designed with TV Licensing offences in mind there is now unfortunately even more pressure on those on low incomes who are not guilty to plead guily to trumped up evasion charges just to keep the cost down rather than fight their corner and risk being lumbered with a huge bill if they lose their appeal.

Fred Bear said...

Pipa Doubtfire (Head of the BBC TV Licensing team) has recently blogged on the enforcement process:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/aboutthebbc/entries/ab8e8abc-75b6-45a8-9c69-c0bb172b22df

According to her: 'Officers might visit at any time of day, including evenings. While we don’t know for certain why more women are prosecuted than men, I’d refute any suggestion that this is due to improper behaviour by our officers'

Given that 70% of the prosecutions are against women, you might think she'd be a little curious as to why there is such an imbalance.

I've been LLF for many years and have very occasionally had dealings with the BBC's so-called 'Officers'. They've never called at my address at the weekend or in the evening. It was always during working times.

Fred Bear said...

This isn't going to please the BBC:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/end-the-bbc-licence-fee

More than 120,000 signatures on a petition to end the TV Licence fee.

As the petition says:

'The Magistrates' Association has been calling for the decriminalisation of TV licence evasion for nearly 20 years, concerned that evaders are punished disproportionately.'

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Anonymous said...

Bit off topic, but Crime Bodge has written an excellent report regarding Goons and Polcie collusion.

http://crimebodge.com/tv-licensing-abuse-of-process/

Admin said...

Very nice. He has a flair for the written medium, the chap who runs Crimebodge.

Fred Bear said...

This might interest some people who read this blog.

BBC Licence Fee Unit Equality and Diversity Action Plan April 2013 -March 2014 at:

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/diversity/pdf/tvl_dap_2013_14.pdf

According to this document one of BBC TV Licensing's aims is to "ensure that all BBC and TV Licensing staff and contractors fully understand their equality and diversity obligations."

Despite this aim, most people prosecuted by BBC TV Licensing are on benefits and/or women. In fact 70% are women.

If you look at this historical research:

http://www.radstats.org.uk/no057/gordonpantazis.pdf

you'll see that this wasn't always the case. In 1980 roughly equal numbers of men and women were prosecuted. Also there were far fewer cases overall. The number of prosecutions has increased hugely, particularly against women.

It would be interesting to have a reason for this from BBC TV Licensing. But they don't seem very curious to find out.