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A leading criminal defence lawyer has accused the outgoing Government of using the cover of the general election to cynically “sneak in” new punitive court charges.

Nick Freeman, aka Mr Loophole, says the charges – coming into effect tomorrow (April 13) – are another example of the legal system being weighted to encourage defendants to plead guilty rather than challenge the offence with which they have been charged.

These new charges will see defendants having to pay upon conviction court fees ranging from £180 to £520 in the magistrates’ court, and £900 to £1,200 in the crown court.

This, he said, is in addition to defendants having to pay a contribution towards prosecution costs and also the Victim Surcharge – which is simply a crime tax.

However, defendants who win their cases will only recover a small contribution of their defence in the magistrates’ court and no costs in the crown court.

Mr Freeman said: “This flies in the face of our presumption of innocence. It is grossly unfair that people who are acquitted should not recover all their reasonable costs, irrespective of whether their case is heard at the magistrates’ or crown court.

“This creates an uneven playing field where the costs are stacked up against those who are charged regardless of guilt or innocence.

“By introducing this new fee regime, the government is making it, in many instances, cost prohibitive for those charged with a crime to be able to afford a legal defence.

“There has been no full parliamentary debate about this serious subject and this is on the back of legal aid fees which have already been slashed.

“This government simply wants anyone charged with an offence to roll over and plead guilty, and, at the same time, to directly finance the court system.

“We need a balanced court system where defendants who are charged are able to defend themselves and not be severely disincentivised from challenging the prosecution case.

“Presumably with these proposals the court will now become a party to the proceedings, and will be liable to contribute to wasted costs incurred through their administrative errors.”

Mr Freeman added: “I assume that this new principle of targeted tax will be extended to other public bodies, particularly health and education. In other words, if someone is treated for a self-induced illness such as alcoholism the treatment will no longer be free at the point of delivery!”