Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.





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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

FINES @ BAND D & BAND E



Fines are the most common sentence passed at court accounting for around two -  thirds of all sentences handed down by the criminal courts (66.5 per cent in the 12 months ending September 2012). Following the Criminal Justice Act 2003  the lower courts were given the power to impose fines in two higher bands;  Band D (where a fine is imposed as a direct alternative to a community order)  can be up to 300% of relevant weekly income and Band E (as an alternative to a custodial sentence) which can be up to 500 % of relevant weekly income.

 In the 12 months ending September 2012, there were 816,600 fines handed down (99.8 per cent of these being issued at magistrates’ courts), a decrease of 5.2 per cent from the same period a year earlier and the lowest number of fines handed out over the last 11 years. The majority of fines issued in the 12 months ending September 2012 were for summary offences with only 6.6 per cent issued for indictable offences. The fine rate of 66.5 per cent is broadly consistent with that seen in the same period a year earlier  and has declined from a peak of 70.3 per cent in the 12 months ending September 2004. The decline has been due to a decline in prosecutions and subsequent conviction for summary motoring offences – the offence type for which fines are most commonly given. Although courts have been directed that they must consider fining as an alternative to community and custodial penalties  I have been unable to find an analysis of the various fine levels imposed.

For the first time that I can remember my last sitting included a case (motoring) where defence counsel pleaded on her client`s behalf that a financial penalty be employed as a suitable disposal  and not the community penalty indicated by the Sentencing Guidelines such a sentence, if imposed, being a threat to her client`s employment status.  After some discussion we concluded that it was indeed a conclusion with which we concurred.  Accordingly we fined the offender at D level; £300 being paid immediately and the full four figure balance within seven days. 

Official guidance is that these higher fine levels should be paid within 18 months (Band D) and two years (Band E). Personally I consider the timetables too generous for those bands considering the reasoning behind them and in a future similar case were such a plea to be made would explore very very carefully an offender`s stated income where immediate or short delay in payment is not offered.

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