BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 13 December 2007, 13:24 GMT
'Victim surcharge' not collected
A burglar entering a house
Criminals are meant to pay the surcharge to improve victim services
Thousands of criminals in England and Wales are being let off paying money to help victims because a computer system cannot process many offenders' details.

All criminals should pay a 15 "victims' surcharge" towards services, but the system, launched in April, only recognises those who are fined.

Only 1.1m of the 16m target has been raised because those jailed or given community sentences are not charged.

Magistrates say it is unfair and that a new computer system cannot cope either.

Richard Bristow, who has been a magistrate for 20 years and chairs the bench at Uxbridge Magistrates' Court in Hillingdon, west London, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme courts were "in the business of trying to be fair" but at the moment the system was failing.

We think this is unfair and it is inconsistent and it's not as if we weren't thinking about victims all along anyway
Richard Bristow

If a motorist committed a minor drink-driving offence which incurred a fine, he would pay the surcharge, while a driver committing a more serious crime would not have to hand over the money, he said.

"We are just there to apply the law as Parliament has made it, but we think this is unfair and it is inconsistent and it's not as if we weren't thinking about victims all along anyway."

He said a new multi-million pound computer system, called Libra, currently being rolled out to magistrates' courts also could not process the information needed for the surcharge.

"Everybody who works in the system has heard so many complaints about Libra. It's never done what it was supposed to do.

"It was supposed to make all the administration of the courts much simpler and quicker and run smoother, but it's too complicated."

Victims' fund

The Ministry of Justice said that by the end of October collections of the victims' surcharge stood at 1,078,621.

A spokesman said: "It is our intention to collect victims' surcharge on all sentences.

"We intend to do this after the Libra system has been rolled out to all magistrates' courts."

The levy, which is payable by all offenders on top of fines levied by the courts, goes into a victims' fund, which supports a wide range of services for victims and witnesses.

The ministry said that it is policy to collect compensation, costs and the fine - in that order.

It says it did not "ignore the views of the Magistrates' Association" having considered all opinions.

Introduced as part of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, the levy works in conjunction with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, which pays compensation to the victims of violent crime.

However, the Magistrates' Association wants to see a new type of victims' fund set up, which would enable courts to hand over compensation immediately to victims and recover the cash from criminals at a later date.

Prior to the launch earlier this year, the Home Office - which was responsible at the time - said the surcharge was part of a series of moves to "rebalance" the criminal justice system in favour of victims.

Rebel magistrate resigns over fee
12 Apr 07 |  Cambridgeshire

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific