Man must pay £425 for chocolate buttons theft

  • Thief stole a £1 pack of chocolate buttons but was ordered to pay £425
  • That included £150 criminal courts charge which must be imposed by court
  • Charge has come under fire nationally and locally by lawyers and magistrates
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HE stole a packet of chocolate buttons worth just £1 but they turned out to be much more costly.

Stephen Mills ended up shelling out £425 when he was hauled before the courts.

It’s a nonsense for victims and it breaks the link between the offender taking responsibilty for the damage that they’ve don

Tim Sparkes

But part of that was made up of a new £150 ‘criminal courts charge’, which has been criticised.

Courts have their hands tied over the charge and unlike other orders, it is not means-tested.

That means defendants can be ordered to pay charges they will never afford.

If unpaid for two years it is wiped.

The charge – imposed on conviction – range from £150 on a guilty plea in the magistrates’ court to £1,200 after a trial at crown court.

Tim Sparkes is a solicitor from Rowes Spares Partnership and represents defendants at Portsmouth magistrates and crown court.

He said: ‘The risk is it’s going to make people plead guilty to avoid the higher charges.’

He added: ‘We’re getting people coming to court who are racking up thousands of pounds already in criminal courts charges.’

He added that a defendant he represented, who works hard on low wages, admitted common assault and got a conditional discharge. But he was told to pay a £150 criminal courts charge as well.

Mr Sparkes said he fears it means magistrates in some cases will be unable to impose compensation for victims.

He added: ‘It’s a nonsense for victims and it breaks the link between the offender taking responsibilty for the damage that they’ve done.’

The Ministry of Justice said it brought in the charge to ‘make it possible to recover some of the costs of the criminal courts’ and reduce the burden on the taxpayer.

But the Magistrates’ Association and the Howard League for Penal Reform have criticised the charge.

Richard Monkhouse is national chairman of the Magistrates’ Association.

It is the independent charity representing most magistrates in England and Wales.

He said some are quitting the bench over the charge.

He added: ‘We’re calling on the Lord Chancellor to launch an urgent six-month review in October with a view to giving magistrates discretion.’

At Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court, Mills, 38, of Celia Close, Waterlooville, admitted stealing the chocolate buttons from WH Smith in London Road, Waterlooville, on August 11.

Another man, Paul Drury, 49, of Talbot Road, Southsea, admitted stealing a bottle of cider worth £2.65 from Sainsbury’s.

He was fined £70 and ordered to pay a £20 victim surcharge and a £150 criminal courts charge.

He committed the crime on June 28 in Commercial Road.

Portsmouth magistrates ordered that he pay the cash through his benefits.