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.

Comments are usually moderated. However, I do not accept any legal responsibility for the content of any comment. If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016


The apparent and sometimes actual disproportionality of some sentences, often fines, to offences has always been a cause for concern amongst interested observers of the nitty gritty of our justice  system.  It is acutely apparent in the fining of those who are convicted of non payment of fares on public transport.  Charges are laid to reflect whether or not there was intent to defraud or benign failure to pay.  The problems in my experience have arisen over the application or not by the transport authority of a penalty fare. In my early years on the bench I questioned at all levels the arbitrary nature of the rules on offering penalty fares as operated by prosecutors of the transport authority in my area.  From the bench chairman downwards I was told not to interfere. I did, however, persist and about two to three years later said authority made clear in its literature on line and in private that there would be conformity by its prosecutors.   Generally it worked.  A few years later such work was devolved to a nearby bench as part of a programme of "rationalisation".  I never did discover if that bench held the authority to the standards we had implemented.

So it is not often that a transport company and/or the Justice Ministry is open and clear about its policies towards fare dodgers.  The following is copied from a recent report of proceedings at Exeter Magistrates` Court:-

"Asked to comment on the severity of fines imposed for fare dodging, a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Sentencing is a matter for the independent judiciary, who make their decisions based on the facts of individual cases.”

The maximum penalty for rail fare evasion with intent to avoid paying for a ticket is a £1,000 fine or three months’ imprisonment. The maximum penalty for failing to produce a ticket is a £500 fine.

However, statistics from the Ministry of Justice show the fines imposed by Exeter magistrates recently are well above the average for courts in England and Wales.
Last year 23,894 people were prosecuted for travelling by railway without paying the correct fare, failing to show a ticket or failing to give their name and address – a fall of 21 per cent on the previous year. Of those prosecuted, 18,680 were found guilty.
While 11 people were given a custodial sentence, the vast majority of defendants were fined. The average fine across England and Wales was £290 in 2015 – up from £91 a decade earlier.

A spokesman for train operator Great Western Railway said sentencing was a matter for the courts but added that the firm always attempts to deal with matters without court action.
He said: “Should individuals not respond to us the matter is referred to the criminal court process. Where a penalty fare is issued the passenger is written to and offered the opportunity to pay or to appeal the fine; a subsequent reminder is sent and then it is largely taken out of our hands and into the court process.

“To be consistent for all those travelling the rules are the same regardless of the fare amount and are set out in National Conditions of Carriage. It is the court’s decision and we would respect that decision.”

The GWR spokesman added: “Fare evasion costs the rail industry about £240 million a year. To make sure that customers who pay for rail travel are not unfairly subsidising those who choose to avoid paying, passengers are required to purchase a ticket prior to boarding a service from station ticket offices or from the available ticket vending machines.”

Where a passenger is unable to purchase a ticket prior to boarding – for example if a ticket office is closed and the ticket machine is broken – they are obliged to purchase a ticket at the next available opportunity."

1 comment:

  1. I'm puzzled as to how fare dodgers "cost" the rail industry anything, unless they are provisioning trains to meet the demand from non-payers as well as ticket holders.