Chris Grayling, the Justice Minister has not let the dissolution of Parliament or the appalled objections of lawyers stand in the way of ever more absurd ruses to squeeze money out of Court users.
Last week he announced plans to charge defendants a flat rate, non-negotiable charge merely for being convicted, irrespective of the seriousness of the charge or their ability to pay. This will be as high as £1200.00 for any Crown Court trial.
Last night, in a bold attempt to take the war to critics who have attacked his plans, Mr Grayling announced the introduction of what he describes as “further much needed efficiency savings” in the criminal justice system.
Not predicted by computer model
In February the Ministry of Justice commissioned research which, according to Mr Grayling, “clearly demonstrated” that whilst the the abolition of court catering services has saved “an appreciable sum of money,” it has also had an unanticipated and unwanted side effect.
Litigants, defendants, witnesses and victims have started bringing food and drinks into court buildings. Takeaway coffee cups are said to be an increasingly intractable problem in waiting areas, and there are even reports of interview rooms being taken over for picnics, something that was not predicted by the Ministry of Justice computer model.
“Doing nothing was not an option”
As a result, I had no choice but to act decisively,” said Mr Grayling, “doing nothing was not an option. This Government cannot and will not sit idly by and watch court buildings being turned into pop-up restaurants.”
Protocol normally dictates that new laws are not introduced during an election campaign, but Mr Grayling, showing an apparent disregard for constitutional proprieties, explained that the Lord Chancellor’s statutory duty under S.3 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 required him to have regard to “the public interest in regard to matters relating to … the administration of justice.”
“I have received the clearest possible advice that if I fail to act now I will be behaving unlawfully. Accordingly I am exercising my powers under S.12 of the Act to make rules to address this problem immediately.”
Under measures contained in the Criminal Courts (Catering Charge) Order (SI 2015/010415) which is due to come into force on May 1st, it will soon no longer be lawful to bring food or drink into courts without paying a “Catering Charge.”
“I have done my best, within a very difficult spending envelope, to ensure that the Charge is as fair as it can be,” said Mr Grayling yesterday. “I recognise that there will be winners and losers but everyone recognises that the current free for all system is simply unsustainable.”
Involvement of Lawyers “an expensive luxury.”
Under the Order, anyone entering a court building will have to declare to the Court Security officers whether they are carrying “comestible material.” Those who fail to make a declaration, or who lie, will be liable to prosecution.
In order to save costs the trial will take place summarily in the “relevant court,” which will in most cases be the court into which the offender attempted to bring food or drink. The Supreme Court, however, will be required to remit any cases to the Inner London Crown Court. A flat rate criminal court charge of £750 will become payable by the offender on conviction. Legal Aid will not be available because, as Mr Grayling explained:
“My intention is to make the trial process quick and easy. In most cases our modelling shows that offenders will be convicted. I would expect judges to imprison offenders to deter others. The involvement of lawyers would be an expensive luxury which would be completely counter-productive.”
For those that make a declaration there will be a sliding scale of charges, based on the notional value of the food or drink brought into the building. The applicable charges are set out in Schedule 1:
|Tea or Americano||£0.40|
|Plain mineral water (up to 500ml)||£0.40|
|Small packet of crisps or other savoury snacks||£0.60|
|Small packet of confectionery, cake, doughnut, biscuit, wafer or other similar sweet comestible||£0.60|
|Sandwich 1 filling (vegetarian)||£1.00|
|Sandwich 1 filling (meat)||£1.20|
|Sandwich 2 filling (vegetarian)||£1.50|
|Soup without roll||£1.50|
|Sandwich 2 filling (meat)||£1.75|
|Soup with roll||£1.75|
|Soup with roll and butter||£2.00|
|Sandwich (artisan bread)||£2.50|
|Soup with artisan bread roll, ciabatta, focaccia or other speciality baked farinaceous product||£2.75|
|Kebab, 8” Pizza, small fish and chips (other than cod)||£5.00|
|Large fish (other than cod) or small cod and chips, 10” Pizza or deep pan Margerita||£6.00|
|Large cod and chips or any deep pan pizza (other than Margerita)||£7.50|
|Any comestible item not otherwise specified||£10.00|
For those who expect to be present at Court for a week or more it will be possible to purchase a non-refundable “Hebdominal Consumption Voucher” for £20, authorising the holders to bring in unlimited food and drink from Monday to Friday.
Jurors will be exempt from the charge for the time being, although Mr Grayling said that he he will be keeping the position under constant review.
Under the plans, Court Security officers will be charged both with collecting the charge and arresting anybody who makes a false declaration. Proceeds will be shared between the Ministry of Justice and “Stakeholders” providing Court Security.
Carefully Drafted New Criminal Offences
The new rules create a number of new criminal offences. Regulation 7 sets these out:
Any person who, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse proof whereof shall lie upon him, fails on entry to any court building to declare any comestible item shall be guilty of an offence;
A person guilty of an offence under this Regulation shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of three months, or, if an aggravated offence for a term of six months.
Some legal commentators have been critical of the definitions contained in Paragraph 10:
1. In these Regulations “comestible material” includes all edible material, other than exempt material, other than edible material not intended for consumption at ambient temperature and contained in sealed metallic containers designed for long term storage, and edible material includes all edible material, other than exempt edible material, normally regarded as comestible material, and “comestible” and “material” shall be construed accordingly.
Legal commentator David Allen Green described the rules as “legally illiterate, constitutionally outrageous and morally contemptible,” while shadow Justice Minister Sadiq Khan called them “an appalling attack on justice; one of the stupidest, meanest attacks on the poor that even this Government has made,” but he refused to say whether Labour would reverse them.
Mr Grayling, whose birthday it is today, said criticism was expected but it could be disregarded as it came from “nitpicking left wing malcontents.”