Ministry of Justice slaps penniless tramps with whopping court charges to bolster coffers

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By Jonathan Ames on

Petty shoplifters and the homeless are routinely hit with punitive charges on top of other fines and costs


Desperate examples of the monetisation of Britain’s criminal justice system emerged today from a prisoners’ rights charity.

The Howard League for Penal Reform published a depressing list of petty thieves who have been forced to pay the mandatory criminal courts charge since revised rules were implemented last April.

Under the rules, the Ministry of Justice has ordered magistrates and judges to impose fees of up to £1,200 on anyone convicted of an offence — regardless of that person’s circumstances. That charge comes on top of other levies, such as fines, compensation orders, victim surcharges and costs.

And the message to convicted defendants is clear: fail to pay, go to jail.

Featuring on the MoJ’s hit list, according to the charity, was a roll call of arguably the most vulnerable in society. Hardly career criminals with a form sheets for burglary and robbery, they were mostly petty shoplifters and persistent beggars:

• A 26-year-old homeless man, who stole a can of Red Bull worth 99p from a supermarket in South Shields, Tyne and Wear, was given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge and a £15 victim surcharge.

• A 30-year-old homeless woman was convicted in her absence of begging in a car park in Coventry, West Midlands. She was ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge, a £30 fine and a £20 victim surcharge.

• A 20-year-old man who was living in a hostel in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, kicked out at a flowerpot after being stabbed with a needle by a fellow resident. He became homeless. He admitted criminal damage, which placed him in breach of two conditional discharges that were imposed on him for thefts. He was fined £70 and ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge, £85 costs and a £20 victim surcharge.

• A 37-year-old woman who stole shampoo worth £2.39 from a shop in Banbury, Oxfordshire, was given a six-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge, £35 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

The list is depressingly long. And, according to Howard League chief executive Frances Crook:

These cases are a snapshot of a failing criminal justice system. Up and down the country, people are being brought to court for minor misdemeanours and being ordered to pay a mandatory charge regardless of their circumstances.

Crook continued, slamming the government:

Some are homeless. Some have addictions. Many will be unable to pay. But the Ministry of Justice is poised to waste money it does not have on pursuing the debts. With more budget cuts on the way, ministers should be looking to shrink the system, not trapping more people in it for absurd offences.