Following reporting of the changes to increase the maximum fines that can be imposed in the magistrates’ courts, an extract from a “Dear colleague” letter from the Ministry of Justice:
The current fine levels were set over 20 years ago in 1991 and so were clearly in need of review. Parliament welcomed the move to increase these levels during the passage of the 2012 Act; so too did Magistrates.
Once approved by Parliament, the Statutory Instruments will mean a fourfold increase in the amounts that can be imposed for Level 1-4 offences and allow the magistrates’ courts to impose a fine of any amount on those convicted of more serious offences (Level 5). By way of example, an offence that may be dealt with by a Level 1 fine might be unauthorised cycle racing on public highways, whilst an offence dealt with by a Level 5 fine might be the sale of alcohol to a child.
Once in force, the effect of our changes will be to provide greater discretion within which magistrates can decide the most appropriate penalty for the many thousands of criminal offences punishable by a fine – which also include offences committed by rogue landlords, public disorder and other anti-social behaviour.
These changes are to ensure that there are tough sanctions available across the board where financial penalties can be an effective means of punishment and useful deterrent to reoffending. Their intention is not to unfairly target motorists. The overwhelming majority of those who breach speed limits by a modest amount are already offered a Fixed Penalty Notice, and that will continue. Only the more serious, repeat offenders are likely to be prosecuted and if they are convicted could face higher financial penalties. Very high fines are likely to be reserved for the worst examples of the offence (e.g. an offender of very significant means driving a performance car at grossly excessive speed on the motorway).
We trust magistrates to make the right decisions in individual cases. When setting a fine, the courts must have regard to the means of the offender and the seriousness of the offence. These changes give Magistrates the flexibility to properly punish those who break the law and damage society, whilst allowing them the discretion to ensure that offenders are sentenced in a proportionate way.