Maximum fines imposed by Magistrates courts are due to increase dramatically under new proposals for England and Wales.
The top offence level, which includes motorway speeding, could increase from £2,500 to £10,000.Other speeding offences, driving without insurance and selling alcohol to a minor could also see rises.
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said financial penalties “set at the right level” were an effective punishment for offenders.
“Magistrates are the cornerstone of our justice system and these changes will provide them with greater powers to deal with the day-to-day offences that impact their local communities.”
Any new legislation would first have to be debated in Parliament but there is no current date for implementation of the new legislation.
Most offences that involve a fine in Magistrates’ courts are subject to specific maximums, known as levels, which currently range from £200 to £5,000. Magistrates then take into account the seriousness of the offence and the offender’s mitigation when setting the fine level as well as the sentencing guidelines for each offence.
RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister questioned the new proposals:
“People who break the law should bear the consequences but this seems such a wholesale change to the system so you have to ask what was going so badly wrong before.
“Ironically we know that speeding offences have declined over recent years and just last week the Department for Transport confirmed that, even after taking congestion out of the equation, recorded traffic speeds have been dropping for a decade on all types of roads.”
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 allowed magistrates the power to impose unlimited fines for certain offences. However, the government is only now tabling the appropriate legislation to put that ruling into effect.
However it should be noted that fines imposed are relative to income, so save in a very few cases where an offender has a significant income, the changes will make little difference unless and until sentencing guidelines are amended.
The proposed changes would see:
- Level 1 fine maximum increase from £200 to £800. Offences which may be dealt with by a Level 1 fine include unauthorised cycle racing on public ways
- Level 2 increases from £500 to £2,000. Offences include driving a motor cycle without a protective helmet
- Level 3 increases from £1,000 to £4,000. Offences include the sale of alcohol to a drunk person or being drunk and disorderly in a public place
- Level 4 increases from £2,500 to £10,000. Offences include speeding on the motorway