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Criminal Courts Charges Must Be Scrapped As Soon As Possible, Say MPs

Tory-led Commons justice committee cited example of a woman who stole four Mars Bars worth 75p each and faced charge of £150 plus fines.

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A mandatory charge of up to £1,200 imposed on all convicted defendants in criminal cases must be scrapped "as soon as possible", the Conservative-led Commons justice committee has recommended.

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Chris Grayling, the former justice secretary who introduced the criminal court charge

The criminal courts charges have attracted widespread criticism since their enforcement in April. Dozens of magistrates have resigned over the payments, which have been described as Dickensian as they are imposed on top of any fines and regardless of the defendants' income or circumstances.

Chris Grayling, the former justice secretary who introduced the fees, has defended them by arguing that criminals should "pay their way". His successor, Michael Gove, said the charge meant the taxpayer was paying less towards the justice system.

But on Friday, MPs on the justice committee said the charges were "disproportionate" and said they had "grave misgivings about whether the charge as currently framed is compatible with the principles of justice”.

They said the charge should be scrapped completely. If ministers refuse to go that far, the committee said, they should at least "radically reduce" the amounts and give judges and magistrates discretion over whether to impose them.

Bob Neill, the committee's Tory chairman, said the charges may also lead to false pleas.

He said: "In many cases it is grossly disproportionate, it fetters judicial discretion, and creates perverse incentives – not only for defendants to plead guilty but for sentencers to reduce awards of compensation and prosecution costs. It appears unlikely to raise the revenue which the Government predicts."

The report cited the example of a 32-year-old woman who admitted to stealing four Mars Bars worth 75p after, she claimed, she "had not eaten for days" because her benefits had been sanctioned.

"She was fined £73, ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge, £85 costs, a £20 victim surcharge, and 75p compensation," the report said.

The Ministry of Justice said the charges were being kept under review.

Siraj Datoo is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Siraj Datoo at siraj.datoo@buzzfeed.com.

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