Plus ca change…

Change Letters

I went to bed on Thursday night knowing that on Friday morning there was going to be a lot of fuss and a lot of head scratching.  It seemed that the polling companies had massively misjudged the mood music and the level of hatred for the so-called “nasty party” was in fact more accurately described as grudging respect.   After five years of austerity and cuts the backlash at the Conservatives simply didn’t materialise.   Instead the Liberal Democrats were sacrificed on the altar of public indignation, the SNP became in every sense of the word the Scottish National Party, UKIP proved that the current electoral system makes it hard to translate support into seats and the Greens need better PR.

Much has been said in the last twenty fours hours about what this election means, why it went the way it did and whether it was fair or not.   The reality is we now have another five years of Tory government and as a result there will be more cuts, more savings made and life will for many be even harder than it is now.   Yet, do any of us have the right to say that the decision was wrong, that those who re-elected a Conservative government were selfish and uncaring to do so.

The result wasn’t what I wanted, I wanted a party elected that represents me and my values and are willing and able do something about my concerns.   For me that’s simple, to protect the current system of justice and no more cuts to the legal aid budget, and to throw out the idea of dual contracting in legal aid.

Why do I want that?

Two reasons; because I genuinely believe that access to justice and proper representation and the ability to protect my rights regardless of my means is a vital part of any civilised and enlightened society.  Secondly, because I work in criminal justice and reliant on a salary to pay my bills, service my debt and provide for my children and ex-wife.   Further cuts and the introduction of dual contracting puts that at risk.   It is the second reason that means we now have another five years of Conservative government.   Very simply, more people thought they would be better off with the Conservatives than with the other parties and that means they were re-elected.

Is that selfish?  Possibly.

Is it right?  That’s not for me to say.

Is it understandable?  Absolutely!

I’m reminded of the quote which has been widely (and probably wrongly) attributed to Voltaire “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” and much used in various campaigns of late.  The fact that a Conservative government has been re-elected doesn’t give anyone the right to abuse others, to blame others for it.  We all made our choices, we all had our chance to have our say and the fact we didn’t get what we wanted doesn’t necessarily make it the wrong decision.

For me, for now I will continue to oppose the cuts made to legal aid and the attacks on the justice system across the board.   One thing is certain, having a Conservative government and the possibility of another five years of Grayling means there will be no surprises.   We know what is proposed and what he has on many occasions stated he wants to do.

Now we just need to decide how we continue to fight him if we value our jobs and access to justice regardless of who we are or how we voted.


The Criminal Courts Charge


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.




I consider myself lucky to have a job that I enjoy, that lets me do something that I think makes a difference and that on most days I think I am not bad at.   Often, the hours are long, the pressure is unrelenting, the clients demands are sometimes unrealistic and the thanks are for the most part few and far between.   Yet, I wouldn’t change what I do and actually look forward to getting to work and getting down to it.   I am one of many who I am sure feel the same way.   Criminal justice on both sides of the coin, prosecution and defence is so much more than a job, it becomes a way of life and without wanting to sound all holier than thou, a vocation.

I joined the profession at the tail end of the last big recession in the nineties.   As a trainee, one of my responsibilities was trucking down to the local County Court to appear before the local District Judge in his chambers and represented one or more of a number of different banks, building societies and mortgage companies applying for possession of someone’s home who had fallen behind in their mortgage payments.   There would be twenty or thirty applications to be made every couple of weeks, each one representing another family that had become overwhelmed by the debt that rising interest rates, loss of their jobs and mounting bills caused by the recession.   As a freshly minted keen young trainee, eager to impress, it took me a couple of weeks to fully appreciate the impact on the people, almost always unrepresented, that I faced across the judge’s table.  Every time the judge refused the possession on a minor paperwork issue, or imposed a suspended possession order I took it as a blow, a loss for my clients.

The local district judge was, and probably still is, a fierce looking chap.   A smart beard, small round glasses and a quick tongue, he didn’t suffer fools gladly.   One Monday after an unusually large number of hearings, he asked me to stay behind.   We spoke for about an hour; about the job, about me, where I had come from and what I wanted to do, about the law, justice and people over a cup of wretched coffee whilst he smoked his pipe.   He told me what he thought the job was about, and why he did what he did.

He explained that as far as he was concerned as long as the other side turned up and could show to him why they had defaulted he would never take their home away and would always grant them a suspended possession order.   The banks had lots of homes, those appearing before him only the one.   The banks and mortgage companies could afford justice because they could always afford someone like me to appear before people like him.   Those on the other side not so much.  It was his job to ensure that the right thing was done.  He said to me that as long as I practiced law to always remember that there was no such thing as justice if it was only accessible to those who could pay for it.   That justice wasn’t just a concept, but a real and living thing that should be protected and fought for.   If I remembered that and strove to protect that, then it didn’t matter whether I won or lost each case.

That conversation stuck with me and I have no doubt helped make me the lawyer I am today, and certainly helped me decide that criminal defence work was what I wanted to do.   I have thought of those words often in the past few years as I have seen the profession on all sides eroded by cuts and seen people at their wits end as they realise that they cannot afford to be represented in court.

The Government in the past five years have systematically dismantled the justice system; cuts to the police force, legal aid, the courts, probation and prisons all in the name of saving money and reducing the deficit.   The cuts have nothing to do with austerity and everything to do with ideology.   Money may have been saved but at what long term cost?

Today we are asked to vote for a government for the next five years.   It is not for me to tell anyone how to vote, no-one should tell anyone how to do that.   Personally, I won’t be voting for any party that believes that access to justice is only for those who can afford it.