Criminals are now being ordered to pay up to £1,200 towards the cost of their cases. The Ministry of Justice says these charges should not have an impact on payments to victims of crime, however BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours show has been told that many judges feel that once the compulsory amount is ordered, there is less available to be paid in compensation.
When the new Criminal Courts Charge was introduced in April, the government said the fee would be paid on top of fines or compensation, but following a prosecution in Leeds in August, Judge Christopher Batty explained the new charge’s impact while setting out compensation for the victim of the case. He set the order for £500, adding that it was not possible to order more for the victim as he had been obliged to impose this new charge.
Court reporter Olwen Dudgeon told Radio 4: He was clearly unhappy that he couldn’t aware the amount he would like to have done.”
She illustrated another case of unlawful wounding where a 21-year-old dancer suffered facial scars after a vodka bottle was thrown through her window. Ms Dudgeon continued: “The Recorder
Peter Babb made the £900 Criminal Courts Charge and knowing the defendant didn’t have much money available said it’s not possible to consider compensation – so again because £900 went on the Criminal Courts Charge she didn’t get a penny in compensation.”
The Magistrates association has warned that the new Criminal Courts Charge may increase the burden on those with little income, or may encourage the innocent to plead guilty to avoid the risk of higher payments in a crown court. Those who plead guilty pay less than those convicted following a trial.
Jonathan Smithers, President of the Law Society, said: “There are cases because of this change in policy where people are losing out, the victims who would otherwise have received compensation are not receiving it.
“Compensation orders are important because the criminal injuries compensation scheme is limited. This is a way for the judge to say ‘you should have this without any further evidence’.”
A spokesman from the Ministry of Justice stated “It is right that convicted adult offenders who use our criminal courts should pay towards the cost of running them.
“We have always made it absolutely clear that offenders must pay compensation orders, victims surcharge and fines before the criminal court charge.
“The charge does not form part of an offender’s sentence and magistrates and judges should not take it into account when awarding compensation to victims.”
Althought he government says the new charge will be reviewed after three years, the Magistrates Association is calling for a review to be implemented after six months.