Court charge creates "perverse incentive" for guilty pleas

17 November 2015

Criminal court charges create perverse incentives for the innocent to plead guilty, warns Bar Council chairman Alistair MacDonald QC, ahead of today's parliamentary debate. He also points out that we still do not know if the Government is on track to raise £265 million it proposed to bring in over the course of this Parliament.

Alistair MacDonald QC said:"It is clear that the criminal courts charge does not enjoy popular support. Members from both houses and from across all political parties are making the case for it to be reformed. Magistrates have resigned in record numbers and media campaigns indicate opposition is strong and widely felt. The criminal courts charge creates a perverse incentive for the innocent to plead guilty and this is not in the interests of justice.

"Defendants who are innocent may have little choice but to plead guilty simply to avoid court fees of up to £1,200 if they are convicted after a not guilty plea. No one should be influenced by a court charge in making their decision about whether to plead guilty or have a trial. 

"The criminal courts charge was introduced by statutory instrument just before the last Parliament was dissolved so there was little to no time for parliamentary debate.

"The November spending review is just around the corner and it seems that data on how much money has been recovered from these charges is not yet available. The Bar Council calls on the Ministry of Justice to publish the relevant statistics as soon as possible in order to inform a review of criminal courts charges policy."

Please click here to access our parliamentary briefing note.


Notes to Editors

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3. 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