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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Tuesday, 16 February 2016

SCANDAL OF UNPAID FINES BY POOREST IN SOCIETY




It is probably fair to say that generally but not exclusively it is the poorest in our society who appear before us for non payment of fare on public transport whether it be the Metro in Newcastle, a tram in Manchester or the Tube in London. Each transport authority has its own policy on when or if it instructs its inspectors to issue a penalty fare of c£50 to be paid at 50% if paid within 14 or 21 days. Those cases not falling within that bracket are usually summonsed to court if they have been unable to provide a reasonable and acceptable explanation for their non payment. When there is a suspected fraud eg using someone else`s ticket a summons is the only outcome.

In my experience very few attend court in person, perhaps two or three out of a list of forty or fifty cases, and only perhaps a maximum of nine or ten will return the paperwork with an admission of guilt and a statement of their means. Those offenders will generally be given full benefit for their guilty plea and will be fined according to their means. The remainder will be found guilty on the facts presented unless there is an obvious flaw in the evidence submitted and fined according to the relative weekly income for the area concerned. The maximum will be for London courts where the RWI is considered as £410/week. Fine levels will usually be up to a week`s income depending on the actual charge. If there have been previous offences of a similar nature there will be a loading of the fine to reflect this behaviour.

All this is neat and tidy but for many it remains a paper exercise. Depriving the poorest in society of what little cash they have is a pointless exercise. What such unfortunates do have is time on their hands. Surely imposing some form of work in the community makes more sense than setting them up to be unable to pay a financial obligation to the state. In the neat and tidy tick box sentencing culture imposed upon all sentencers work in the community is unable to be imposed until an offence which has been committed is serious enough for that threshold to have been crossed.

Currently around £1 - £2 billion {the numbers vary according to the sources}  of unpaid fines are floating in the ether. Whatever new attempts are made to collect it is unlikely that much of this amount and newly imposed fines will ever be collected. The sanctions against non payers are so rarely imposed, or of more import, able to be imposed that the system is beyond recovery. Many states in America have simple procedures for imprisoning wilful non payers according to the outstanding amounts. But as increased prison accommodation and the will to utilise such accommodation is nowhere to be found in this or any likely future government the non payers can laugh all the way out of court.

There must be out of the box thinking on how the state is going to impose sufficient persuasion so that the scandal of unpaid fines is consigned to the same history as rotten boroughs, child labour or transportation to the colonies.

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