The Government is under pressure to scrap controversial criminal courts charges that critics have dubbed a “tax on justice” amid convictions for theft of chocolate buttons, baby milk and socks being handed down with punitive costs.
Magistrates, lawyers and campaigners have all spoken out against the £150 flat fee - which is not means tested and can rise to £1,000 - citing cases where people guilty of petty crimes have little or no means to pay them off.
Introduced by Chris Grayling when he was Lord Chancellor during the dying days of the Coalition Government, his successor Michael Gove is under pressure to overhaul the charge or scrap it.
The outcry has been underlined by a senior magistrate who quit after he was suspended for offering to pay towards the “iniquitous” charge imposed on a penniless asylum-seeker, and a judge who questioned the viability of the levy after imposing a mandatory £900 fee on a homeless shoplifter.
“He cannot afford to feed himself, so what are the prospects of him paying £900?,” said Judge Alan Large at Exeter Crown Court.
The Howard League for Penal Reform, which campaigns for justice reform, has compiled a list of court cases - involving theft of shoes, washing powder, and ice-cream, and even a man trying to kill himself by throwing himself through a car windscreen - that have all incurred the charge.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League, told The Huffington Post UK: “The damaging consequences of this unfair and unjust charge are becoming clearer by the day. Ordering indigent people to pay money they simply don’t have is never going to work. The criminal courts charge must go. It is time it was suspended, pending legislation to abolish it altogether.”
Here are nine of scores of cases reported across the UK.