MPs urge Ministry of Justice to axe "disproportionate" court fees

Fees may create "perverse incentives", justice select committee warns

By Josh May

20 Nov 2015

MPs have called on the Ministry of Justice to abolish the criminal courts charge and questioned if the fees are incompatible with the “principles of justice”.

Those convicted by a magistrate court face charges of £150 if they plead guilty or up to £520 if they plead not-guilty. The fee for a Crown Court appearance can reach £1,200. Judges do not have discretion on whether or not to impose the charge, and it does not take account of the offender’s financial circumstances.

The Justice Committee, which has a majority of Conservative members, has labelled the charge “grossly disproportionate to the means of many defendants and to the gravity of the offences”.

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Its report said the lack of flexibility for judges created “unacceptable consequences” and that the fees created “perverse incentives”.

“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,” committee chairman Bob Neill said.

"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.”

The charges have been criticised by a wide range of groups and individuals involved in the justice service. The Bar Council argued the policy was “not in the interest of justice” and the Lord Chief Justice said it had “not gone correctly”. 

The charges, introduced while Chris Grayling was justice secretary, came into force in April and were designed to ensure that criminals contributed to the costs of running the justice system.

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