Less than eight months after it was introduced the UK Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, has announced that the infamous ‘court fee system’ will be scrapped as of the 24th December 2015.
On 13th April 2015 the Government introduced the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (Criminal Courts Charge) Regulations 2015. This new Act was introduced in an effort to ensure criminals “pay their way” and would see court fees ranging from £150 to £1200. This was met with great resistance and it was argued that it could lead to defendants pleading guilty for financial convenience and reasoning.
Gove’s much welcomed decision to abolish the court fee system was announced in an address to the Magistrates Association in central London. Gove stated that, "the basic principle behind the policy – that those who have broken the law should bear some of the costs of running the criminal courts – is right. However, as the Justice Select Committee set out in its recent report, there have been concerns raised about how this has worked in practice.”
As a practicing criminal defence Solicitor I have witnessed the impact court fees have had on clients in relation to their plea. When sentencing, Magistrates and District Judges have, in my opinion, appeared almost apologetic for making the Court Charge Order. The fee system certainly hit national headlines and generated debate, so much so that in October 2015 more than 100 experienced Magistrates quit their roles in protest to the hike in court fees.
On the abolishment of the court fee system, the Magistrates' Association's National Chairman, Malcolm Richardson said: "This is an enormous success for the MA (Magistrates' Association) but most importantly for justice in our criminal courts system.
However, questions still linger over the court fee system. Should defendants pay a court fee for cases handled in the last eight months which the Justice Secretary deems as unjust? And more importantly for the legal system - does the Justice Secretary have anything else in the pipeline which may cause even more confusion and uproar again in the near future?