Gove bows to critics and scraps court fees charged to criminals

Gove bows to critics and scraps court fees charged to criminals

3 December 2015

Originally published in The Times

Frances Gibb

The controversial courts charge levied on criminals, which was introduced this year, is to be scrapped within weeks.


The fees, which range from £150 to £1,200, will no longer apply from December 24, Michael Gove, the justice secretary, said yesterday.


The move is a coup for the Magistrates Association and others who condemned the mandatory charge introduced in April and which led to at least 50 magistrates resigning.


It was another policy introduced by Chris Grayling, the previous justice secretary, several of whose initiatives have been written off in Mr Gove’s six months in office.


Mr Gove also announced a review of fines and other penalties imposed by magistrates.


The move comes after George Osborne abandoned planned cuts to tax credits in his recent spending review, by using a £27 billion fiscal windfall to defuse a damaging political row.


The criminal courts charge was introduced by Mr Grayling to help towards the running of the courts and in March he said that the fee would ensure that criminals “pay their way”.


The scrapping of the charge, levied on convicted offenders with a higher rate for those who plead not guilty, was announced at a meeting of the Magistrates Association Council in London.


Mr Gove said: “When the magistracy has made its views on particular policies crystal clear, I have been listening hard.” He added: “It has become clear that while the intention behind the policy was honourable, in reality that intent has fallen short.”


Money is taken from offenders through fines, a victim surcharge, compensation orders, prosecution costs and the criminal courts charge. The “complex and confusing” system will now be reviewed, Mr Gove said.


In October a senior magistrate resigned after being suspended for offering to pay towards the “iniquitous” criminal courts charge imposed on a poor asylum-seeker. Nigel Allcoat pulled £35 out of his pocket after hearing that the defendant faced a £180 charge.


Malcolm Richardson, of the Magistrates Association, said: “Mr Gove made it abundantly clear… that he has listened.” Chantal-Aimée Doerries, QC, of the Bar Council, said: “The charge created a perverse incentive to plead guilty, negated the principle of judicial discretion, reduced compensation awards and was never likely to raise the funds anticipated.”


Policy reversals


● Plans for a £100 million “secure college” for teenage prisoners were abandoned.

● Rules restricting the number of books a prisoner can have overturned.

● A deal to advise Saudi Arabia on running prisons was withdrawn.

● Proposals to outsource enforcement of court fines reversed.

● Mr Gove also stalled on the abolition of the Human Rights Act in favour of a British bill of rights.