Mandatory court charges in domestic violence cases punish victims and perpetrators alike, a group of magistrates have claimed.
Currently, anyone who pleads guilty to domestic violence at a Magistrates’ court faces a £150 fine. If they are found guilty after a trial, that can rise up to £1,000.
This has created an incentive for innocent people to plead guilty rather than risk incurring the higher costs of going through a trial, according to the Magistrates Association – an independent charity which represents a majority of the magistrates in England and Wales.
The group’s national chairman Richard Monkhouse claimed that his members had seen several domestic violence cases in which a couple has stayed together after one partner pleaded guilty. The result was that “the victim is then penalised because the £150 mandatory charge hits joint incomes”.
He added that, as the charges are not affected by how much someone can actually afford, they have “severe consequences” for people with low incomes.
Mr Monkhouse called for “an urgent review” of the charges and said that magistrates should have “the power to judge whether the charge is appropriate in individual cases – something they currently lack.
The Guardian reported that, in a recent case, a magistrate told a defendant the fine he had been given had “no bearing on your ability to pay”, that it was “totally inappropriate” and “extremely unfair”.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice is standing by the charges. A spokesperson said it was “right that convicted adult offenders who use our criminal courts should pay towards the cost of running them”.