New Changes to UK Justice System Encourage Innocent People to Plead Guilty

Michaela Whitton
August 4, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) United Kingdom — Magistrates in the U.K. are resigning in protest over a new set of criminal court charges that came into effect earlier this year. The Magistrates Association, which represents magistrates in England and Wales, has confirmed that a number of experienced magistrates have resigned in protest over the new court fees that force the innocent to plead guilty.”

“Justice is only going to be for those who can afford it,” claimed North Tyneside magistrate George Lyons, one of 20 magistrates announcing their resignation. Richard Monkhouse, chairman of the Magistrates Association, told The Guardian:

“Our members have expressed concerns about the charge from the outset and it shows the strength of feeling when experienced magistrates resign from the bench because of it. The law is the law and we have a sworn duty to apply it, so we’ve made our views known to the Lord Chancellor and will continue to do so.”

The Government claims it has introduced the charges because it “considers that convicted adult offenders who use our criminal courts should pay towards the cost of running them.”

The punitive charges that came into effect in April will see adult offenders charged between £150 and £1,200 on top of an already hefty range of penalties. The new prosecution costs will be slapped on top of fines, compensation orders, and victim surcharges already faced by those in the dock.

The most worrying element of the latest addition to the British justice system is the risk of the innocent pleading guilty to avoid the potential of fees rocketing to £1,000 for a conviction following a not guilty plea.

The already extremely problematic issues with access to justice in the U.K. began in April 2013, when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) came into force. The bill, which aimed to cut the civil legal aid budget by a quarter (£320m) within a year, was defeated 14 times in the House of Lords but eventually passed by a narrow margin. The Act removed legal aid for the majority of cases and as usual, the vulnerable were hit hardest. The dangers of leaving people to represent themselves against qualified barristers hardly bears thinking about—but it’s happening.

President of the Law Society, Andrew Caplen, has described the new court charges as “outrageous” and a threat to fair trials. As the U.K. justice system rapidly turns into an industry, perhaps the next phase of the operation will introduce a small fee payable to attend a police interview, or a pricing system of £75 per hour for an Inspector, £50 for a regular PC or £25 to report a crime. Legal reform or overlapping interests—you decide.

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Michaela Whitton joined Anti-Media as its first journalist abroad in May of 2015. Her topics of interest include human rights, conflict, the Middle East, Palestine, and Israel. Born and residing in the United Kingdom, she is also a photographer. Learn more about Whitton here!