Justice Committee calls for scrapping of criminal courts charge: Bar Council response

20 November 2015

Today's report from the Justice Select Committee calls on the Government to repeal the criminal courts charge. The charge is mandatory and is imposed on offenders convicted of a criminal offence to help cover the 'relevant court costs' of the proceedings.

Chairman of the Bar Council Alistair MacDonald QC said: "It is now clear that the Government will need to think again.

"The criminal courts charge was brought in with almost no opportunity for Parliamentary scrutiny. It is, therefore, no surprise that we have seen a series of critical questions and debates in Parliament, culminating in today's report from the Justice Select Committee.

"We are pleased that the committee has accepted representations made by the Bar Council, among others, and we support calls for the Government to legislate at the earliest opportunity.

"Not only does the criminal courts charge create a perverse incentive to plead guilty, it has produced some bizarre, if unintended consequences. One consequence is that compensation awards are being reduced because judges know that many of the people they sentence will not be able to pay the criminal courts charge they are forced to impose, let alone compensation, prosecution costs and the victim surcharge.

"The Government has a £5 million contingency in place to cover the costs of imprisoning those who default on the charge. Reviewing the criminal courts charge soon will spare us the absurdity of imprisoning someone because they could not afford to pay for having been prosecuted.

"Nearly all of the witnesses who gave evidence were dubious that the criminal courts charge would raise the amounts predicted. We hope that some interim figures will be published soon."

ENDS

Notes to Editors 

  1. Further information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.

  2. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes: 

  • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services

  • Fair access to justice for all

  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and

  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board