The Criminal Courts Charge
The Criminal Courts Charge came into effect on 13 April 2015 introduced by The Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (Criminal Courts Charge) Regulations 2015. Although there was almost no publicity about it before it’s introduction, it will affect most clients who appear before the courts in England and Wales.
What is it?
Over the past five years the current Government has sought to cut the amount of money spent on the criminal justice system. These reductions have been achieved by cutting the budgets of the police, probation and court system. They have also significantly cut the availability of criminal and civil legal aid by reducing the offences for which legal aid is available, the scope of the cover and the number of firms who can offer a client advice. The Criminal Courts Charge is a further attempt by the Government to cut the amount of money spent on criminal justice and the courts and the current Lord Chancellor has said the charge has been created to help fund the criminal court system and cut the burden on the tax-payer. In effect the Government hope that the courts will be funded by those who are found or plead guilty to any criminal offence.
Does it affect me?
If you are found or plead guilty to any criminal offence committed on or after the 13 April, then the charge will affect you.
The charge becomes payable by anyone who has been found guilty or pleads guilty to any criminal offence, from the most serious such as murder to the less serious such as speeding and even littering.
The court, whether it is a Judge or a bench of Magistrates, have no discretion as to whether you should pay, can afford to pay or how much you should pay and will be imposed on sentence in addition to any court costs, compensation or the Victim Surcharge.
How much do I have to pay?
The level of charge has been set by the Government and it depends upon the offence for which you have been found or pleaded guilty to.
The amount you will have to pay is set out below:
Conviction following a guilty at Magistrates Court for an offence that can only be dealt with in the Magistrates Court – £150
Conviction by a Magistrates Court at a trial of an offence that could only be heard in the Magistrates Court when (a) the defendant did not enter a plea, (b) the trial proceeded in the absence of the defendant, and (c) the court dealt with the case on the papers without reliance on any oral evidence – £150
Conviction following a guilty plea at Magistrates Court for an offence that could be heard in either Magistrates or Crown Court – £180
Conviction in a Magistrates’ Court after a trial of an offence that can only be dealt with by Magistrates – £520
Conviction by a Magistrates’ Court after a trial of an offence that could be dealt with by a Magistrates Court or a Crown Court – £1000
Conviction following a guilty plea to an offence that can only be heard in the Crown Court – £900
Conviction by the Crown Court after a trial in the Crown Court – £1200
Magistrates’ court when dealing with a person for failure to comply with a community order, suspended sentence order or supervision requirement – £100
Crown Court when dealing with a person for failure to comply with a community order, suspended sentence order or supervision requirement – £150
What if I can’t pay?
The charge will be collected by the same people that collect court fines and compensation. You should immediately contact them to discuss payment of the charge at a level that they will accept. You should not ignore it, a court may think you have wilfully decided not to pay and that can result in prison.
Can I ask for the charge to be deemed paid as I have spent in time in custody or been given a prison sentence?
In short, no. If you are sentenced to prison and the charge is payable in any event and arrangements will be made to collect it from you upon your release. The court still have discretion to allow fines and costs to be remitted against any time you spend in custody.
Can I apply to have the charge looked at again?
If you agree a payment term with the fines officer and your circumstances change you can always ask the fines officer to look at how much you are paying. The fines officer cannot reduce the total charge imposed but he can agree to a lower payment rate. Of course if you want to pay the charge off earlier than agreed you can always pay more.
If after two years after the charge was imposed the charge is still owed, and you can show you have made every possible effort to pay it and you have not been convicted of any other offence you can apply to the court that imposed the charge to have it removed.
Should I just plead guilty so I pay a lower charge?
You should never plead guilty to anything that you have not done simply to avoid paying costs or the charge. It is important that you seek good legal advice as soon as you are charged with any offence. A criminal conviction will have an effect on you and can prevent you from travelling abroad or getting certain jobs.
At Reeds we understand that for some appearing in court can be very expensive. We will always try to obtain legal aid for all our clients, where legal aid is not available we will ensure that our fees are fair and reasonable. A guilty plea or conviction will mean that you have to pay the Criminal Courts Charge, if we can avoid that plea or conviction for you we will.