It has been plagued with controversy and faced fierce opposition. Now Justice Secretary Michael Gove has announced the criminal courts charge will be scrapped.
The charge, called by many a “tax on justice”, came into force in April under previous Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. It required magistrates and judges to impose a mandatory charge of up to £1,200 on any convicted adult, whatever their circumstance.
Gove said this morning that the change would come into effect from December 24 in an address to the annual meeting of the Magistrates Association in central London, following months of mounting criticism.
Gove said: ‘”While the intention behind the policy was honourable, in reality that intent has fallen short. Whenever I have had the opportunity to talk to magistrates over the last six months, the criminal courts charge has, in almost every case, been criticised.”
MPs on the Justice Select Committee warned in a report last month that the fees were “grossly disproportionate” and may create “perverse incentives for defendants to plead guilty”.
Earlier this week a Hackney woman said she was compelled to change her plea from not guilty to guilty to avoid the risk of having to pay the charge. Hundreds of case studies have been released as part of the campaign.
The criminal courts charge has led to the resignation of over 50 magistrates, including Marie Lewis who said: “The criminal charge disproportionately punishes the poorest in the community, undermining the right to a fair trial.”
Earlier today, Malcolm Richardson, the Magistrates Association National Chairman, said: “We’re very grateful to Mr Gove for listening to the case made by magistrates about the charge. In all my years on the bench, I’ve never seen something strike so hard at the heart of justice.”
“Although we have lost many experienced magistrates, there will be an enormous sense of relief across the criminal justice system,” he said.
The Howard League for Penal Reform, who spearheaded the opposition to the charge since its inception welcomed the decision as “a victory for justice” and applauded the secretary for “acting quickly to get rid of a charge that was simply unfair”.
Overturning the criminal courts charge initiative is the latest in a series of policy reversals, which include scrapping of the former justice secretary’s plans for a secure college for young offenders, a ban on books for prisoners and a prison training contract with Saudi Arabia.