Government propose to increase level of fines in Magistrates’ Courts

On 10 June 2014, the Government published a draft statutory instrument (an order made by the government upon permission of an Act of Parliament) to raise the levels of fines in the Magistrates’ Court.

This had been in the offing for some time.

In the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the Government enacted a provision to remove the cap – currently at £5,000 – on the level of fines imposed by a Magistrates’ Court.

What are the changes?

In essence, fines rise 300%. The current scale is as follows:

Level 1            £200

Level 2            £500

Level 3            £1,000

Level 4            £2,500

Level 5            £5,000

They will increase to:

Level 1            £800 (e.g. not exhibiting an excise licence)

Level 2            £2,000 (e.g. railway fare evasion)

Level 3            £4,000 (e.g. using or keeping an unlicensed vehicle)

Level 4            £10,000 (e.g. failure to produce an insurance certificate or speeding on a motorway)

Level 5            Unlimited (e.g. defective brakes on a goods vehicle)

This does not apply to children and as such the maximums will remain at £250 (under 14) and £1,000 (under 18)

There are exceptions such as importing goods in contravention of prohibitions or restrictions etc. under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 and knowingly misusing marked oil under the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979. See Schedule 1 of the draft SI for the full list.

Schedule 2 substitutes sums for those offences excluded from the rise. The two offences listed immediately above have their maximums increased to £20,000.

The increase will not affect cases where the offence was committed before the commencement of the section.

Will the changes have a big impact?

Fines have to be proportionate to the offence, but also are measured by the offender’s ability to pay the fine. For example, if you earn £400 per week after tax, a fine of £10,000 for speeding on the motorway is likely to be considered grossly disproportionate to the offence, but also wrong in principle based on your ability to pay – it would take months and months for you to pay that fine.

So what is the result? Either, fines increase and the courts will be imposing fines which represent a greater proportion of an offender’s weekly income (thereby making fines more onerous) – with the result being that many will be unable to pay and are consequently sent to prison in default of payment of the fine, increasing the already bulging prison population, at greater expense – or the level of fines imposed won’t really increase, save for those of very high net worth such as celebrities and footballers.

That is so until the Sentencing Council revises the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines (see numbered page 148, or 165 of the PDF) which provides the guidance on the level of fines in particular cases. This is based on a percentage of relevant weekly income.

What is relevant weekly income? “Where an offender is in receipt of income from employment or is self-employed and that income is more than £110 per week after deduction of tax and national insurance (or equivalent where the offender is self-employed), the actual income is the relevant weekly income.”

So until that guidance is revised, don’t expect the levels of fine to rise, save in those exceptional cases.

We’ll update you as and when the change is brought into force.

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11 thoughts on “Government propose to increase level of fines in Magistrates’ Courts

  1. Andrew

    Like everything from MoJ this is written in a language which uses English words and syntax but is not English. It is Bollocks.

    Fines are based on the offender’s (admitted) means. It’s no use fining people more than they can pay. And the “Lord Chancellor” knows that, but he is fluent in Bollocks and it becomes a habit .

    Reply
  2. Kate Caveat

    Thanks for the very clear summary and analysis, Lyndon. I wish the press reports were even a quarter as clear.

    Reply
  3. Andrew

    Fag packet? Wash your mouth out with soap twice. That’s either promoting smoking or homophobia or both.

    There’s presumably going to be a Criminal Justice Bill this session – isn’t there always. So let’s have six points for using your mobile at the wheel. Two strikes and you’re taking the bus.

    The trouble is that while Middle England doesn’t generally drive at really mad speeds he – and very often she -likes to drive while using a hand-held mobile. So it won’t happen.

    We all do it, don’t we?

    “Compound for sins that we’re inclined to
    By damning those that we’ve no mind to!”

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Fines In Magistrates’ Courts | Crime Legal Blog

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