Chris Grayling MP, our Lord Chancellor and Minister for Justice has announced that people convicted of crimes in the criminal courts (i.e. criminals) will be made to pay £600 each towards the cost of prosecuting them.
It’s a policy designed to garner headlines and popularity in the right wing press (leadership bid in the future I wonder) rather than one actually intended to bring in any money… at least I hope that’s what it is otherwise Mr Grayling really is as badly informed about the Criminal Justice System as everybody says.
The policy is wrong for two main reasons. First, if you believe that criminals should pay the costs of bringing the case against them then why not charge them the actual costs of doing that rather than an arbitrary £600? A simple shoplifting may well cost less to bring to court whereas a fraud could cost thousands of times that £600 figure. So, from an ideological stand point it makes no sense.
At this point it’s worth declaring my personal opinion, which is that if a criminal has the money to pay the full costs against them then I believe that they should be charged the full cost and not an arbitrary lower or higher figure. The point there really is if they have the money. “You can’t get blood out of a stone” is a very true saying and brings me neatly onto my next reason for saying that this policy is a headline generator not a serious policy.
A quick Google search shows that the courts are already imposing fines, costs and compensation on criminals that will simply never be paid back. In 2010, that figure stood at£1.3bn. In October 2012, Francis Maud MPset out a plan to collect on the £20bn of money owed by individuals to thegovernment – the majority of that money has nothing to do with the courts. So far as I am aware nothing has happened and there are still over a billion pounds of unpaid court fines, costs, etc owing. In fact, so little has changed that the MOJ (Grayling’s own Ministry) wrote off £75M of unpaid fines inOctober 2013, which despite Mr Maud’s new collection strategy is a 20% increase in debts written off on the previous year and 50% on the year before that.
Currently, a guilty plea will attract a costs order of £85 and a conviction following trial can range from around £285 - £600 depending on a lot of factors. The Government can’t collect that. How will increasing the costs charged solve that problem?
As a final point, it’s worth contrasting this announcement with costs rules, introduced by this Government, that prevents those wrongly prosecuted (in other words the innocent) from reclaiming their costs in proving their innocence from the Government that falsely accused them.