As well as being sentenced, someone who is found guilty (or pleads guilty) of a criminal case can be ordered to pay some or all of the costs of the proceedings that have been incurred by the prosecution.The power to order this comes from s18 Prosecution of Offences Act 1986.
The amount has to be fixed by the Court.
How much is awarded?
In theory, this can include anything up to the full amount incurred. This includes the costs incurred in preparing all the paperwork, the payment of witnesses to attend court, and the payment of fees to barristers and experts. The costs of the police investigation itself cannot be claimed back.
The CPS have a list of their standard rates for costs. These are an average and the prosecution can ask for less (if it is clear that that is appropriate) and, in a suitable case, for more.
But, the news report I saw didn’t refer to costs?
It is not automatic. There are various factors that will be taken into account. In particular, a Court has to consider the means of the defendant. For example, if someone is on benefits, or is going to prison and will lose their job, in reality they won’t be able to be able to pay a huge sum of money. It may be that the Court will decide the defendant should pay a reduced amount to take account of that.
There was generally a ‘rule of thumb’ that a defendant should be able to pay the financial penalties imposed (fine, compensation and costs, but not confiscation which is treated very differently) in about a year. This is not a hard and fast rule and the Court can make an order that takes more time to pay if it is appropriate (see R. v. Olliver and Olliver, 11 Cr.App.R.(S.) 10).
Similarly, whilst it is generally right for the order of costs and any fine to be broadly in proportion, this is not a legal requirement but is generally followed.
Although the Crown Court deals with more serious cases (that cost more), the Magistrates’ Court tend to order costs as a matter of routine, whereas it is a lot rarer in the Crown Court. When the Crown Court does order costs however, it will often be at a much higher rate.
Can someone appeal against an order for costs?
Yes. From the Crown Court, the appeal is the normal route of an appeal against sentence. Be careful in relation to the Magistrates’ Court as there is no right to the appeal to the Crown Court – it has to be to the High Court by way of Judicial Review.
The Criminal Procedure Rules section on costs is here. For more details, the Practice Direction (Costs in Criminal Proceedings) is useful.