Redbridge magistrate celebrates the controversial courts charge being scrapped

A Redbridge magistrate said the court charge would affect defendants' pleas.

A Redbridge magistrate said the court charge would affect defendants' pleas. - Credit: Archant

A leading Redbridge magistrate has rejoiced at the decision to scrap a controversial courts charge, which he says caused some of his colleagues to resign.

David Evans, deputy chairman of the north east London branch of the Magistrates Association, said the justice secretary Michael Gove’s announcement last week was “the best news we [magistrates] have had for a very long time”.

The charge Mr Gove scrapped was designed to help adult offenders pay for the justice system.

Circumstances were not taken into account – the Recorder reported in October how beggars in Ilford town centre were being fined £150 for pleading guilty to begging.

This fee could rise to £1,000 if a defendant was found guilty. Mr Evans said this made people who felt they were innocent plead guilty.

“You could see people would change their pleas, they would be told about the charge by their solicitor and suddenly they would plead guilty.”

Asked if any Redbridge magistrates quit because of the controversial charge Mr Evans said he only had anecdotal evidence to go on but “for some people it was the last straw”.

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Mr Evans explained it was very hard for magistrates to charge on people they knew could not pay.

He continued: “In my own case I had a beggar who had no money whatsoever, prosecuted by Redbridge Council for begging.

“He was a recovering alcoholic and if I had followed the letter of it we would have had to put a £150 fine on him.

“He would never have been able to pay it and it would have caused quite a lot of stress on him both psychologically and financially.”