Back in April, the British government introduced a "criminal courts charge". Designed to "make criminals pay" for the cost of their trials, what it actually did was pervert the course of justice, creating an incentive for the innocent to plead guilty while violating the right to a fair trial. The charge was so unjust that some judges resigned rather than impose it, while others were discharging people without conviction to protect them from the effective excessive penalty of paying it. The good news is that it is now going to be abolished:
A “tax on justice” that made defendants pay towards the cost of their trials is to be abolished by the Government after a three-month campaign spearheaded by The Independent.
In a significant climbdown, the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, has ripped up the policy of his predecessor, Chris Grayling, and announced that the criminal courts charge will be scrapped across England and Wales by Christmas.
The fee had been condemned by magistrates, lawyers, civil rights groups and even the Conservative-dominated Commons Justice Select Committee.
The U-turn follows a campaign by The Independent that exposed how defendants were being encouraged to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit to avoid a fee that they could not afford to pay.
Good. But the obvious question now is whether those who have had paid this unjust charge will have it refunded - and whether those who plead guilty under threat of it can challenge their convictions.