Tag Archive | "Justice committee"

Criminal courts charge to be scrapped


Lord chancellor Michael Gove inherited many ill-considered policies from his illiberal predecessor Chris Grayling in May. But few were more damaging to the fairness of the justice system than the criminal courts charge. Grayling introduced it, without any public consultation or parliamentary debate, during the last days of the coalition government.

The charges require defendants who plead guilty in the magistrates’ courts to automatically pay £150 for the privilege. Those who fight a more serious case and lose face a bill for £1000 (which rises to £1200 in the crown court). The charge is not means-tested, so ability to pay is ignored when it is imposed; nor do courts have discretion over its imposition.

MPs on the Justice Committee published a report in November in which they said the fee created “serious problems” and was often “grossly disproportionate.” The cross-party group’s chairman, Conservative MP Bob Neill, said the evidence they had received raised “grave misgivings” about the fee’s benefits and whether it was “compatible with the principles of justice.”

He said it created “perverse incentives – not only for defendants to plead guilty but for sentencers to reduce awards of compensation and prosecution costs.”

Meanwhile, the lord chief justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said the charge had “not gone correctly” and should be looked at again.

In a highly critical speech, Lord Thomas drew attention to the impact of the mandatory criminal courts charge and increases in costs for civil claims. “Steep rises in criminal and civil court fees are putting access to justice beyond the reach of most people and “imperilling a core principle of Magna Carta”, the lord chief justice said.

The Magistrates Association (MA) confirmed that more than 50 of its members had already quit since April over the issue. MA chairman Richard Monkhouse added: “We’re seeing some valued experienced magistrates resigning over the charge, which is a great shame and we believe we’ll see more go.

Gove has clearly had enough, and today he announced to parliament that the criminal courts charge for convicted defendants is to be scrapped from 24 December.

He said that the Ministry of Justice will review the entire structure of court-ordered financial impositions for offenders.

Since his appointment Gove has tried to repair the government’s relationship with the legal profession and has ditched many of Grayling’s most controversial policies. These include restrictions on prisoners receiving books, plans to spend £85m on a mega-prison in Leicestershire for young offenders, and selling British prison expertise to regimes with appalling human rights records. New contracts for criminal solicitors in England and Wales were expected to come into effect early next year but are now mired in complex legal challenge.

Grayling always proclaimed that there was no crisis in the prison system. Gove does not agree and has shown that his penal thinking inhabits a completely different world.

And so the unravelling of Grayling’s legal legacy continues apace.

Posted in Criminal JusticeComments (0)

Justice committee criticises civil legal aid cuts


When examined by the House of Commons public accounts committee, leading civil servants at the Ministry of Justice admitted that they did not have the time to research the potential impact of cuts to legal aid included in LAPSO. Permanent Secretary Ursula Brennan confessed “The piece of evidence that was overwhelming was the level of spending. The evidence required was that government said we wish to cut the legal aid bill.”

Committee chair Margaret Hodge accused the department of ‘endemic failure’. “The thing that really distressed me is how you embarked on this with so little evidence,” she said. “When you were changing the rules you had no idea the impact it would have.” Read the full story

Posted in Civil Law, Legal AidComments (0)


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