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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Monday, 28 July 2014

HIGH LEVEL FINES INSTEAD OF COMMUNITY ORDER: ONE LAW FOR THE RICH?

Following the Criminal Justice Act 2003 magistrates` 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. These fines differ from the normal fines imposed by the courts as they can be collected over a two year period; however, they remain uncommon despite the fact that courts must consider fining as an alternative to community and custodial penalties. It is surprising therefore that in my experience knowledge of their availability is not widespread on my bench.

A case before me and my colleagues a few weeks ago was a prime example of the usefulness of these higher banded fines. The offender, a female in her mid sixties, pleaded guilty to drink driving. This was her second similar offence in six years. In the retiring room we decided that she be disqualified for an appropriate period and then we discussed the form of community sentence which her offence merited. The suggestion that she be punished by a level D fine at its highest ratio; ie 300% of her relevant income was met with some surprise from my colleagues. Her means form showed a monthly income of £6,000. A new colleague offered his opinion that that form of disposal could be interpreted as one law for the rich..........My other colleague who was also previously unaware of these higher level fines put down that argument with some eloquence and the offender was fined £3,000 plus costs.

6 comments:

  1. Why not DID programme?

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    1. This offender had previously had this offered and apparently undertook it. We did not consider her to be worthy of another.

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    2. Unpaid work? Curfew? Attendance centre? Very interested to hear your eloquent colleagues justification for what seems very much like a let off

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    3. A woman in her mid sixties and unpaid work; be serious......Attendance Centre is for young people;......what good would a curfew do? Her previous drink drive was her only previous offending although you weren`t to know.

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    4. I am being serious, individual placements can be found that are more suitable for people with limited abilities, charity shops being the obvious example. There are also adult attendance centres in operation in some areas. Curfew might well do at least as effective as the financial penalty as a chastening punishment and could keep her off the road if not automatically banned.
      The repeated offending suggests a veryb good reason to repeat the DID programme (wholly permissible within a few years).
      Drink drive risks lives, she's been allowed to repeat this callous, selfish behaviour and allowed to buy herself out of a meaningful sentence. The vast majority of people who find their way into offending behaviour programmes would happily pay two weeks wages to avoid being made to answer for their offending and change their behaviour over a course of months.

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  2. Can you advise some detail as to the argument put forward to justify the fine level?

    It is of course a requirement to consider the means of the offender and this is made clear in the approach to fine assessment as detailed in the Adult Court Bench Book. The fine should be punitive so that some hardship is experienced but not such that it would result in a person being unable to afford to live. Fines are proportionate because they are based around a percentile of income. If you have a high relevant weekly income then the fine amount will be higher than it if you have a low income even though the same percentage is used. In other words it is only the level of fine that is at issue and the level is determined by the seriousness of the offence and not the ability of the individual to pay.

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