STAFFORDSHIRE’S Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis has welcomed the dropping of the criminal court charges order which was brought in last April.
Justice Secretary Michael Gove announced that the charge, which is paid by defendants on top of fines, compensation orders and legal charges, will be scrapped from 24 December.
Mr Ellis said: “I’ve made my views known on this and am relieved it is being dropped. Whilst it was originally brought in with good intentions there have been a number of issues with the charge being mandatory, fixed and outside the discretion of magistrates and judges.
“Firstly, the steeply rising scale of charges could place undue pressure on some defendants, who were innocent, to plead guilty for fear of a huge charge if found guilty. Secondly, the discretion of those presiding over trials to reduce fines and other costs to counter what was seen as an excessive mandatory charge could result in victims losing compensation. Thirdly, the evidence suggests that as there was no means testing, the costs incurred chasing people who had no hope of paying was significant, therefore reducing the scheme’s ability of doing what it was meant to do, which was raising money to support the cost of courts.
“Whilst I’m a strong supporter of making criminals pay for their wrongdoing, a fair justice system for all in this country is fundamental to being British. While we need to find ways of making the justice system cheaper and run more smoothly, it must not be at the cost of real or perceived fairness.”
Mr Ellis believes the cost of running the system can be reduced and has been calling for a more joined-up and local approach to criminal justice following work done by his office in Staffordshire. It has shown that a redesign of the end- to-end justice process can reduce administration failures that cause cancelled trials, improve the speed of those charged getting to court and potentially reduce overall costs while improving the experience for victims and witnesses.
“I want better value for money by joining up services and I want faster, more effective justice for victims. We need to ensure the different agencies involved in criminal justice work for the benefit of the whole system and the public, not just their individual bit of it,” he said.
Work is ongoing with his proposals as are talks between the PCC and the Ministry of Justice.