The UK and Canada are two states that force offenders to help pay for victim support services, and the laws in both nations are set to get even tougher. The concept of offenders being forced to pay a ‘victims’ surcharge’ is also sparking interest among politicians in other countries.
The British Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, announced over the summer that the government plans to extend a scheme introduced in 2007, with the aim of raising an extra £50 million to help victims of crime.
The plan, due to come into force in October, would mean that a £15 victim surcharge that is currently slapped on all fines would be extended to offenders who are given custodial sentences, community work or conditional discharges. The amount of the surcharge is also expected to be higher for the latter categories.
Clarke said: ‘These changes provide victims of crime with better, more personalised support and force offenders to take more responsibility for their crimes, instead of the taxpayer bearing the brunt of funding victims’ services.
‘With offenders currently only contributing around a sixth of the funding that supports victims’ services, the balance is clearly wrong. Our plans will see offenders contribute up to £50 million more each year.‘
He added: ‘Victims too often feel themselves to be an afterthought for the criminal justice system. Despite improvements during the last two decades the system can still fall short. I believe these new measures will change that and provide the support victims actually need.’
However, a recent article in the UK’s Law Society Gazette had this warning: ‘Enforcing payment may prove difficult. Statistics for January to March, published last week by the Ministry of Justice, revealed that the government is owed £593m in unpaid fines, including sums towards the victim surcharge.’
The UK also has what is called the Prisoners’ Earnings Act. The government says up to £1 million will be taken from prisoners’ pay packets (money earned from work they do while in jail), and it will go directly to the charity Victim Support.
In July the high court ruled that the 40 per cent levy on the prisoners’ wages was totally legal, rejecting an appeal made by an inmate in an open prison.
Scotland, which makes its own laws, is also now considering a victims’ surcharge. The government there has launched a period of consultation on the issue.
And back in April of this year the Canadian government announced that it would double the victim surcharge that convicted offenders must currently pay. It also says it will ensure that the surcharge is automatically applied in all cases.
At the moment the fee can be waived when an offender can prove that it would result in undue hardship. But, under the changes the government wants to push through, exceptions will no longer be possible.
Canadian Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu said: ‘By doubling the victim surcharge and ensuring that it cannot be waived, our government is sending a signal that offenders must pay for the harm they cause to victims.’
By Seamus Kearney.