Friday, October 24, 2014

What's The Point?

(This is a post by Bystander N)

What’s the Point in a Situation Like This?

For an imprisonable offence committed after 1st September:-

“Your offence is so serious that only a prison sentence is appropriate.  You have blah blah blah.  We sentence you to X weeks/months in prison.  There has been no request for compensation.  The prosecution has asked for X as a contribution towards their costs.  You have no fixed address and are not receiving any benefits.  In fact you have no income whatsoever and are sleeping rough so we are not going to order you to pay anything towards the costs.  We are however obliged, we have no choice in the matter, to order you to pay a surcharge of £80.” 

So how is that ever going to be paid by someone with, quite literally, not a bean?  If it were ever to be chased for payment, which is unlikely, how will that be done and what will it cost to do so?  We have discretion not to award costs or compensation based on a defendant’s means, and to deem a fine served but we can’t deem a surcharge served, even if we put someone inside.  How daft is that?

We dealt with two such offenders yesterday and imposed the surcharge as we have to.  What a pointless waste of words in doing so.


  1. As we all know very well, the VS is actually a tax, masquerading as being something else, named in such a way as to deceive those who don't know any differently.

    Given that it is a tax, it is entirely appropriate that judicial office holders have no power to waive it. When all is said and done. there is no other tax that can be waived so why would this tax be treated any differently.

    I make the above point whenever this subject rears its ugly head. Call it what you like but It's a tax and as far as the government is concerned we will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. The government couldn't care less what the judiciary thinks, on this or many other subjects.

  2. Kafkaesque more likely.
    It makes the whole system look mad.
    I always thought this surcharge was a bit of a lark anyway, it is not really for victims at all.
    If money way to be diverted to victims wouldn't it be simpler just to divert a proportion of the total fines to victims?

    But,on a serious point if a person has no means and no ability to pay then to impose a sentence( or order ancillary to the sentence) they patently cannot comply with must be wrong in principle and probably not proportionate. I hate to say it but probably open to challenge under the ECHR

  3. Bonkers. I understand from a usually reliable source that there is a workaround. If the person has been held in the cells at some point you can apply the convenient old time-served convention.

  4. There is considerable debate among the legal advisers on this topic! The recent amendment is designed to stop magistrates courts deeming the surcharge paid at the time of imposing imprisonment, On the above facts "one day" could arguably have been given on the basis that the offender was unlikely to remain at an address long enough to allow the debt to be enforced.

  5. If only. I was chatting recently to a crown court judge and asked that very question about it being deemed served. I was told no. They too are having to impose it and are not aware of any workaround.

  6. Bonkers it may be but it is undoubtedly emblematic of the Ministry of Justice as currently led.

  7. Aaaaah !!! the inward looking judiciary.. you cant pick and choose the laws you like to apply its not your job to reason why, its to enforce the law as it stands.
    What right does this individual have to be treated more leniently than anyone else?

    in this case it would seem sensible to attach the fine to his benefit account, so if he gets any he has to pay the fine off.

    1. I believe that there are several judicial office holders who have contributed to this topic and not one of them has said that they would like to pick & choose which laws to apply. We apply the law as we find it because that is the oath that was taken, but we don't have to like it. We have to apply the VS so we do. The fact that someone who has no fixed abode & no income of any kind whatsoever is still charged the VS is a nonsense, and simply results in it never getting paid. It also makes the individual a defaulter thus ensuring further issues down the line when the s(he) is convicted again for some new offence or other. Another VS is added to the previous one and the aggregate still won't get paid.

      Do you really think this is a sensible way to proceed?

  8. As I said earlier, there is no to avoid imposing the VS. Yes, you can deem a fine as paid by time served and you can also waive the prosecution costs but the VS must be applied.

    I sat in court just last Saturday morning and this came up. We had a vagrant appearing from custody for drunk & disorderly, He was of no fixed abode and since he wasn't in receipt of benefits he didn't have a bean to his name. Quite how he got the funds together to buy enough booze to get drunk is another matter but was no doubt through some illegal means or other. Anyway, we deemed the fine paid but our LA reminded us that we had no option but to impose the VS of £20.00. He hasn't got any money and he doesn't have an address so what on earth is the point? It seems that tax must be paid even by those who don't actually have any money upon which to base the tax. Wonderful.

  9. Actually it's the outward looking judiciary wanting to be fair and sensible.

    Until a few months ago it was the case that when someone went into prison no costs were attached so, having served their sentence, they didn't come out to a court created debt.

    If the defendant has no benefits nothing can be attached to a non existent account, and even if there is an account it can't be attached without the court being given the national insurance number. Do you know yours? I don't know mine and I'm sober, drug free and clear headed. I could certainly find it as I have a documents drawer. We are talking here about people without a drawer, let alone any documents in it.

  10. Yes of course I know my NI Number, why wouldn't I ??. it seems mandatory to know it these days. I have NO idea of my National Heath Number but that's another matter.

    I don't think being fair and sensible is letting some people off because they are skint. . I fail to comprehend why you don't just levy the fine and let someone else worry about collecting it.

    Its not your job to worry, once sentence is passed, its someone else's problem.

    1. People on benefits almost always know their NI number, but about half of them don't know their mobile number.

    2. Quote "I fail to comprehend" unquote


    3. Hmmm to you too. You need to take a long hard look yourself chum. Not everyone thinks in the same terms as the judiciary and your attempt to belittle me speaks volumes. We know best and all that .. no wonder people don't listen... they don't like arrogance, they treat it with the contempt it deserves.

      You just do what the law tells you tg. if you don't like it that's tough. Everyone is equal before the law and none should be exempt because they are skint.

    4. You have missed the point. They are going to prison. Why add a financial charge, which is not a fine, that they have no hope of paying and which is very unlikely ever to be collected?

    5. TRY reading what I wrote instead of trying to impose your view on me. Whether it will be collected or not is IRRELEVANT. Everyone is equal before the law. If there is a VS it has to apply to everyone. Of course you could be very public spirited and pay this guy's fine if it bothers you that much!!.

      You have no certainty whether it will be paid or not , in any event its not your job, you should do as the law requires.
      You can alternatively lobby the Govt.,.. or set up a petition and see how many signatures you get..

  11. Anon @ 27 Oct 10:04 You would be amazed but most people DO in fact seem to know their NI number. I certainly know mine and we rarely see a means form without one.

  12. Another Despondent Observer3 November 2014 at 17:35

    You have to ponder how the MoJ would (could?) rationalise the situation arising from R v William Cornick.

    A juvenile commits a terrible act of premeditated murder. The Judge is clear to point out during sentencing that this is no fault of his upbringing or family.

    The last words the defendant's parents and the victim's family hear the Judge say, other than the expected "You must now go with the dock officer" , are "The Victim surcharge applies".

    It is unclear what comfort the Surcharge of £20 (which applies to a custodial sentence for a juvenile) could ever bring to those who loved Mrs McGuire.

    It is also (perhaps intentionally as he fully understood the situation) unclear from the Judge's remarks who should pay the surcharge. Legislation requires his parents to do so. Because they are not the victim of their own juvenile, the law does not allow the Court discretion (at least this situation was foreseen).

    It's hard to see how this serves any party, other than those of a political nature seeking headlines or votes.


Posts are pre-moderated. Please bear with us if this takes a little time, but the number of bores and obsessives was getting out of hand, as were the fake comments advertising rubbish.