Writing’s on the Wall

Lord Chancellors of recent vintage spent a lot of money on wallpaper. I imagine if Chris Grayling had decorated his office, Michael Gove would have stripped the paper off the walls by now. He would have probably burnt the curtains too  He has certainly changed most other things his predecessor has done. 

One significant change was made today. The Criminal Courts Charge survived a grand total of nine months. From the moment it was introduced it was condemned by anyone with an ounce of sense, an ounce of decency or an ounce of experience of the criminal justice system. 

At last sense has prevailed. Hey-ho the charge is dead…..or is it?

The Ministerial Statement announcing the change speaks of a review of all financial penalties in the Criminal Justice System. It praises the intention behind the Criminal Courts Charge but accepts it had problems in practice. The statement goes on to say:

“I am today laying in Parliament an amending statutory instrument which will mean that, as of 24 December, the criminal courts charge will no longer be imposed. Our review will consider alternative ways of ensuring that criminals pay their fair share.”

This would seem fairly unequivocal. The Charge “will no longer be imposed”. But then we look at the Statutory Instrument which has been drafted. It simply deletes the part of the Regulations which provides for the amounts to be imposed as the Criminal Courts Charge. It does not repeal the charge itself. In fact the sentencing court will, on strict interpretation, still have to impose the charge. There is just no value ascribed to the charge ordered. 

It is a fairly curious way of achieving the cancellation of the charge. It leaves the door well and truly open for the charge to be resurrected with a new and different scheme for calculating the amount involved. 

Now what of defendants being sentenced in the next three weeks? Judges have no discretion regarding the charge. The requirement to impose the charge survives even the 24th December date when the amendment comes into force. Between now and then the amounts are still there to be paid. So Judges will have to still order defendants to pay it. Even in its final days, this version of the charge is managing to bring the system into disrepute. Expect some farcical scenes and legal contortions as judges, lawyers and magistrates try to do justice despite the law. 

What is going to happen to the charges imposed and not paid? There has never been a scheme announced by which the remission of the charges would be regulated. Are they still lawful debts owed by the offender?

And what of those that have paid the charge in the last nine months? I do not know the figures but I would wager that the money raised from the charge will mainly have been paid by people convicted of motoring offences. A significant majority of whom would have paid their fair share towards the criminal justice system through the tax they have paid. Do they get the money back?

Or do they just have to take it on the chin? Like most other taxpayers who have been put to great expense by each of the follies constructed by Grayling. Taxpayers who paid for the secure college that never was. Taxpayers who paid to defend the judicial review of the prison book ban. Taxpayers who paid his ministerial wages so he could waste taxpayers’ money. 

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