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 Powers of the courts - fines 
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Fines are recorded in the Domesday book (1085)

Recorded in the entry for Lewes:

  • A man who sheds blood pays a fine of 7s 4d.

  • A man who commits adultery or rape pays a fine of 8s 4d, and a woman as much.

  • The King has [the penalty from] the adulterous man, the archbishop [from] the woman.

  • From a fugitive, if he is retaken, 8s 4d.

(Source: the National Archives)

The standard scale

Every criminal offence triable by magistrates has a maximum fine fixed by law by reference to levels on the “standard scale”.


Magistrates may impose fines up to £5,000 there is no maximum in the Crown Court.  


The use of fines for indictable offences has decreased in the last 10 years by 20%.  Collection of fines has proved difficult but now the MoJ claims that 81% of fines are now collected.


No maximum fine for judges

Judges in the Crown Courts can impose a fine of any amount.


The highest fine ever imposed was on 7th October 2005 of £10 million (reduced to £7.5 million on appeal) on the rail maintenance company Balfour Beatty. 


Balfour Beatty was implicated in the Hatfield train crash where 4 died 102 injured.


Carter Review: National Offender Management Service (NOMS)


(Do not confuse this Carter review with the Carter Review on legal aid)

The Carter Review proposed that:

More effective sentencing and pre-court diversion, better management of fines, and tough community sentences and greater use of electronic monitoring.


Carter also proposed the creation of NOMS

The aim is to ensure better partnership working across prisons and probation - building on the improvements in the services focused on the management of offenders throughout their sentence with the aim to have maximum impact in terms of reduced re-offending.


NOMS will be broken up

NOMS has not been as successful as the government had hoped. The findings of the Organisational Review of the Ministry of Justice indicates that NOMS will be broken up and subsumed into other parts of the Ministry of Justice.  It is alleged the experiment wasted over £2billion.


Powers to collect fines

The courts must ensure that the fine reflects the seriousness of the offence and also takes account of the offender’s means, reducing it or increasing it as a result.


Magistrates can arrange for "attachment of earnings order" following imposition of fine or failure to pay.


Also now under section 300 of CJA 2003, court has power to impose unpaid work or curfew requirements on a fine defaulter, rather than sending them to prison.


Courts Act 2003

The Courts Act 2003 primarily implements some of the recommendations contained in Sir Robin Auld's Review of the Criminal Courts which the Government accepted, in the White Paper "Justice for All" in 2002.


The effect of the Courts Act on fines:

  • Allows deductions from benefits to enforce payment of fines.  This is an advantage to the courts and the fine defaulter.  Ensures prompt enforcement action

  • Increase in sanctions against those not willing or not able to pay

Fines officers

  • Relieve magistrates of essentially administrative matters in many cases

  • Offer a discount of 50% for prompt payment

  • Administer the fines by threatening ‘Further steps notices’

  • Can have the fine defaulters vehicle clamped or other enforcement process applied

  • Wide powers to seize property.

£15 victim levy on all fines

Since March 207 courts have been able to impose a £15 flat-rate levy no matter how big or small the fine.

The levy goes towards a fund to help improve services for victims of crime.

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 intended the levy to "rebalance" the criminal justice system in favour of victims.

The levy is not added to fixed penalty notices.


Some argue that it is a stealth tax which applies to, for example, motorists but not to rapists and burglars who are sent to prison.


Fixed penalty fines

Fixed penalties for crime, fine collection and Penalty Notices for Disorder

In order to clamp down on anti-social behaviour particularly associated with drunkenness the police have the power to impose fixed penalty fines.  The range of offences has gradually been increased and now includes shoplifting. 


The Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 allows a constable and community warden to give a person aged 16 or over a penalty notice for a listed offence.


Offenders either pay the fine within 21 days, in which case there is no criminal conviction recorded or they appear in court and face having to pay one and a half times the original penalty will be registered against them for enforcement as a fine.


The system is not operational in all parts of the UK, and some fines go unpaid, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the police are in favour of the scheme and that it works well in some areas.


The latest figures Penalty Notices for Disorder Statistics 2004 show that over 50% of notices issued are paid in full without any court action.


Criticisms of PNDs

Ministry of Justice figures illustrate the increase in the use of Penalty Notices for Disorder as an alternative to formal police action.

2004 - 63,639 PNDs were issued
2005 - 146, 481 PNDs were issued
2006 - 192, 583 PNDs were issued

PNDs are intended to be a disposal available to police to deal with minor low-level offences.

The Police Superintendent’s Association has criticised the growth in the use of PNDs as undermining public confidence in policing with offenders such as shoplifters, appearing to "get off" with crimes whose cost to shopkeepers or to public bodies may be many times greater than the £50 or £80 PND.

Those criticisms are supported by the Police Federation of England and Wales. The Ministry of Justice records show that £486m worth of PNDs issued have not been paid.

Unpaid fines

Discharge of Fines by Unpaid Work (Prescribed Hourly Sum) Regulations 2004

The courts determine the number of hours of unpaid work required to discharge a fine that is the subject of a work order.  In 2004 it was set at £6.


Advantages of fines

Persons who are fined have a lower re-offending rate, but many fines are imposed on those that consider fines part of their operating costs, for example prostitutes.  Fines bring income to the exchequer, but this is small. 


Fines are favoured because they cause little disruption to the individual his family and his work.  The advantage to the police of fixed penalty notices include the huge reduction in paperwork and time wasted in custody suites and at court.


Disadvantages of fines

On the other hand, there are very high levels of non payment and 20% are never paid at all.  Wilful or repeated non-payment can lead to imprisonment for minor matters for example not having a TV licence. 


Many people cannot or simply will not pay because they have no job or are already in debt. 


There is unfairness in fining the rich the same amount as the poor, this is being addressed and unit fines are to be reintroduced.  (These have existed before but stopped following problems with the system)


Often seen by professional criminals as “worth the risk”, the typical fine for shoplifting is often less than the value of property taken.


Fines imposed other than by courts

Bodies other than criminal courts can impose fines, for example the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

In July 2007, the OFT ordered British Airways to pay record £121.5m penalty in price fixing investigation, after the airline admitted collusion over the price of 'long-haul passenger fuel surcharges' (surcharges).

The penalty was the highest ever imposed by the OFT for infringements of competition law.


The European Commission fined Microsoft 500 million Euros in 2004.

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