Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Breaching the right to a fair trial in the UK

Back in April the British government introduced a Criminal Courts Charge to "make criminals pay". The charge is structured to encourage defendants to plead guilty. And now one of the government's own researchers has pointed out the obvious: it violates the right to a fair trial:

Mike Hough, a professor of criminal policy at Birkbeck School of Law, said in an interview with The Independent that controversial new court fees deny defendants the right to a fair trial because they encourage the innocent to plead guilty. Professor Hough established the Home Office’s British Crime Survey and recently did research for the Ministry of Justice.


The charge is applied to anyone found guilty and is not means-tested or adjusted according to the seriousness of the crime. In magistrates’ courts it is fixed at £150 if someone pleads guilty at the start, but can rise to £1,000 if they are later found guilty.

Professor Hough said: “I do think it’s a very unfair and very unpleasant bit of legislation that imposes very large costs on people without giving judges and magistrates any discretion to waive the charge where defendants clearly can’t afford them.

“It strikes me that these mandatory charges are in conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights. How can you have the right to a fair trial if you can only have one if you can pay for it? Article six gives people the right to a fair trial. I can’t see that you can have the right to a fair trial if you have to pay £1,200 to the court for it if you lose. It provides an added incentive to plead guilty even when you are innocent.”

Judges seem to agree. 50 of them have resigned rather than enforce the charge, while others are granting discharges without conviction to avoid imposing a manifestly unjust and disproportionate penalty. I wonder how long it will take the pig-head British government to get the message?