The current maximum fines that can be imposed by magistrates in England and Wales are planned to increase significantly due to new proposals. One of the highest maximum fines that can be imposed by a Magistrates’ Court is £5000 and can be imposed for more serious offences including motorway speeding. The maximum limit is set to increase to £10,000.
Other offences that can be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Courts such as; speeding, driving without insurance and selling alcohol to a child, are also set to see a substantial rise in the limits of the maximum fines that can be imposed. Currently, fines imposed by a magistrate are subject to maximums, known as ‘levels’, which is the limit on how much a defendant can be fined for committing an offence. The severity of the offence is taken into consideration on a case to case basis when determining the level of fine to be imposed.
The proposals are as follows:
- Level 1 fine maximum to increase from £200 to £800.
- Level 2 to increase from £500 to £2,000.
- Level 3 to increase from £1,000 to £4,000.
- Level 4 to increase from £2,500 to £10,000.
- Level 5 to increase from £5,000 to unlimited.
A record high of over £284 million was collected by the imposition of Magistrates’ Court fines over the 2012/13 financial year. This has been projected to rise in the financial year of 2013/14.
The proposals have been put forward by Justice Minister Jeremy Wright who stated that financial penalties were an effective punishment for offenders when they were ‘set at the right level’. He has confirmed that he hopes that providing greater power to the magistrates will enable them to deal more effectively with ‘day-to-day offences’ and that the penalties will serve as a greater deterrent of the crimes that ‘impact local communities’. His proposals include, for certain offences, extending the fining powers of the magistrates to unlimited fines.
There has been a mixed response to the proposals as some welcome the changes whilst others have dubbed the plans “disproportionate and draconian”.
The legal framework allowing the increase of magistrates’ power to impose greater and unlimited fines was put in place by the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 but the legislation has yet to be brought in.
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