Courts' legitimacy undermined by unfair criminal courts charges, warns leading academic

 

A top UK academic is warning that ‘unfair’ court charges are creating a ‘legitimacy deficit’ and threaten the right to a fair trial. The comments come ahead of an event on fairness in courts, hosted by justice reform charity, The Centre for Justice Innovation.

 

The new mandatory charge – at a minimum rate of £150 for a guilty plea and no trial in the magistrates’ court for a summary offence and a maximum of £1200 after trial and conviction in the Crown Court – has attracted widespread criticism, including the Howard League, the Magistrates Association and the Law Society.

 

Approximately 50 magistrates have resigned in protest, many citing unfair economic pressure on defendants to plead guilty. In July 2015 an unrepresented defendant in Mansfield, initially entered a not-guilty plea for charges related to a football fan fracas. However, he changed his plea to guilty on hearing he would face a court charge of over £500 if found guilty after trial.

 

On Wednesday 30th September, Prof Mike Hough, Associate Director of the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck, University of London, will speak at the Centre for Justice Innovation.

 

Commenting before the event, Prof Hough, who has researched public trust in justice for the Ministry of Justice, said,

 

“The charges will be seen by most defendants as arbitrary, onerous and basically unfair. They create a ‘legitimacy deficit’ in the system, felt most keenly by those whose commitment to the rule of law is most tentative. What’s more, although the government lawyers must have crawled over case-law covering Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, these charges don’t appear to me to guarantee the right to a fair trial – as the right exists only so long as you can pay for it. Apologists for the charges will doubtless say that payment is in arrears and in instalments, but that’s hardly convincing.”

 

Phil Bowen Director of the Centre for Justice Innovation said,

 

“The emerging evidence of how the criminal court charge is working in practice suggests that it’s undermining defendants’ perceptions of fairness in our courts. Moreover, recent cases in courts around the country suggest it’s making innocent people plead guilty to avoid hefty charges they can’t pay. We urgently need to review whether the charge is introducing US-style plea bargaining via the back door.”

 

The parliamentary justice select committee has launched an inquiry into the charges. The deadline for submissions for evidence coincides with the fairness in courts event on 30th September.

 

Event details:

 

30th September, 13 00 – 14 00 at Kean House, 6 Kean Street, London, WC2B 4AS

 

For more information, contact:

 

Philippa Budgen: Philippa@philippabudgen.com 07801 150 192

 

Notes to Editors:

 

About the Centre for Justice Innovation

 

The Centre for Justice Innovation is a research and development charity which works towards a British justice system which reduces crime and in which all of our people can place their trust. We work by supporting frontline practitioners, advancing the knowledge base and promoting practice innovation and evidence in policy making.

 

The Centre for Justice Innovation is an initiative of the New York-based non-profit

 

Ends

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