“Robust, victim centred, blah blah blah, strictly enforced etc etc”. So said a Ministry of Justice spokesbot on 8th August when announcing that ‘up to’ £1.5 million will be extracted from offenders for the benefits of victims every year.
What’s this all about?
This is to do with extending the victim surcharge to all offenders, including, specifically, those sentenced to prison in the magistrates’ courts.
It is achieved by s179 Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. This means that the Magistrates’ Court can’t order a surcharge deemed served by time in custody (a common way of getting rid of a minor offence is a fine of X, or one day deemed served).
The reason this is a block is that otherwise the government knew that magistrates, faced with penniless defendants and recognising the futility of ordering them to pay a surcharge whilst locking them up, would remit the surcharge. This preserves the important point of making the courts look as inefficient as possible by having a large number of unpaid financial penalties on the system.
According to the BBC, this will come in on 1st September 2014. The new s179 came in to force on 1st June,sowhat must (presumably) be coming in on 1st September is an amendment to The Criminal Justice 2003 (Surcharge) Order 2012 (2012/1696) to the table in the Schedule. This will extend the duty to impose a surcharge to the Magistrates’ Court. However, I can’t seem to find the Statutory Instrument that will give effect to this. Given that 1st September is only 3 weeks away, if there is to be one then there should have been a draft SI published by now. We will keep you up to date as and when this becomes clearer. If someone more ‘in the loop’ than us is aware of what is going on, please let us know.
Anyway. Do the MoJ’s statistics stand up?
Seriously, what do you think?
We are told that it will bite on 43,000 people a year. It’s always worth doing some maths when government releases statistics. £1.5 million shared between 43,000 people gives an average of £35 per person. But the surcharge for most of these people will be £80 (if the sentence is 6 months or less). For those who get 6-12 months (possible if there are two either way offences, but rare) the amount is £100.
So … even if everyone is at the lower £80 level, 43,000 multiplied 80 is £3,440,000. What’s the explanation – liars in the MoJ, general ennui, a recognition that this is doomed to fail? Who knows.
How much will it bring in?
‘Up to’ is the key phrase in the press release. For example, I earn ‘up to’ a billion pounds a year. I’ve never earned more than that, but that doesn’t mean I earn anywhere near to that.
Whilst there are a very few exceptions, those people that are sent to prison by magistrates have no money and non assets. They certainly won’t be able to pay an extra eighty quid, even if they were so inclined.
We will see, but this is unlikely to bring in much at all I would imagine. Certainly, it will cost more to administer than it will raise.
A loophole explained
This does explain one thing. I always thought that leaving people in the magistrates’ court sentenced to imprisonment out was an oversight. The sort of thing that happens when you belch out criminal legislation like a drunken hooligan after a curry and Stella binge. But it seems that it was a deliberate policy after all.
This is a good exercise in headline grabbing. The government look tough, but it’s all fairly meaningless. Expert more of this, it being an election year. Will it make much of a difference? I doubt it.