The Guardian reports on a worrying development. In common with many magistrates, and a lot of judges too, the JPs concerned are exasperated beyond endurance by the latest interference with their discretion and have refused to implement the nonsensical, illogical, and unjust Victim Surcharge (of which, be it noted, not a penny will go directly to victims). This surcharge was opposed by everyone who knew anything about the courts when first proposed, but the legislation was slipped through as an afterthought clause in a portmanteau Act, and was brought into law a few days ago, two days before coming into force, and following a hasty redraft of the Statutory Instrument.
Nevertheless it is the law, and cool heads are called for. Magistrates should follow the guidance of their legal advisers as to the law, but that does not detract from their duty to keep impositions within the defendant's ability to pay. The guidance issued at the end of last week by the Justices' Clerks' Society, and the Magistrates' Association (which reads as if it was dictated through clenched teeth)confirms that there is still wide discretion available to benches. With good sense and a weather eye on the Ways and Means Act, we can avoid injustice without going beyond our duty to apply the law.
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