Prior to this, magistrates had judicial discretion on the financial penalty the court felt was appropriate. These were fines, court costs, the victim surcharge and compensation. Government guidelines allowed magistrates to fine offenders appropriately, ie based on their means, with virtually all agencies agreeing that this was the fairest way to deal with offenders. For example, if compensation was applicable for a criminal damage offence, magistrates had the discretion to reduce, or waive, costs and victim surcharge to allow the financial burden to be repaid in a 12-18 month period, with the priority being compensation.

The introduction of the CCC in April this year came as a shock to most magistrates. The direction given was to sentence as normal, taking into account the offenders’ means, then to add the CCC at the level of £150 for a guilty plea and £520 for a not guilty plea, regardless of the offender’s financial status and totally against the government guidelines with which we previously worked.

Just prior to my resignation, one offender in court was found guilty after trial for stealing a £15.60 joint of meat. Compensation was not required as the goods were recovered. He received a conditional discharge, then £20 victim surcharge, £250 court costs and £520 CCC – a total of £790. In my view, which I believe is shared by a very high percentage of magistrates, this is completely disproportionate. As 95% of all cases stay and are dealt with in the magistrates’ court, the discontent amongst magistrates and the number of resignations is very concerning.

When an offender pleads “not guilty”, we immediately have a case management hearing to determine the facts of the crime, and the timing of the trial, based on the type of evidence to be produced and number of witnesses required to attend. At the same time, the chair of the court will ask the defendant if they know that one-third will be discounted from their sentence if they plead guilty at this hearing. We have also now received direction from HMCTS to emphasise to the offender that by pleading not guilty, then being found guilty after trial, that the financial penalty of the CCC will be considerably higher than pleading guilty now.

In my opinion, if an offender was not of good character and believed he was innocent, he may plead guilty to the charge in order to avoid the higher CCC if the evidence being produced on his behalf was not very strong. This again is very concerning.

In my time on the bench we would regularly remit some of the financial burden on offenders if they had, for example, more than £300 outstanding to the court and were on benefits. Magistrates fully understand the need for offenders to pay for the crimes they committed, but in my view the CCC is unfair, disproportionate and, in a very high percentage of cases, will not be collected due to offenders’ inability to pay.

After careful consideration I resigned on 22 July, having served as a magistrate for 11 years, during which time I had chaired both the Fines Panel and Local Community Engagement Group, and was Vice Chairman of the Bench from 2013. I felt that judicial fairness was no longer a priority, something with which I could not live. Once you take judicial discretion away from magistrates it becomes impossible to have a balanced view and administer justice fairly.