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The removal of the cap on Magistrates’ Fines

Updated: Feb 17

New rules have lifted the cap on the amount of fines that a magistrates’ court can impose. This could affect many businesses. Find out about the changes and what they could mean for you in our article.

As of 12th March this year, Section 85 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) has come into force, removing the existing specified upper limits on Magistrates’ Court fines, although this will only affect fines issued for offences that were committed on or after that date and will only apply to those aged 18 or over.

As well as this, when new offences are created, they will specify that upon summary conviction, a fine of an unlimited amount can be imposed.

The Crown Court will not be affected by these changes as it already has the power to impose whatever fine it feels is appropriate, even when an either way offence (one where the offender an choose to be tried either in a magistrates’ court or Crown Court) is committed for sentencing.

The previous position

Before the new law came into force, there was a restriction on Magistrates’ Court, meaning that they could impose fines no higher than £5000 (or, in exceptional instances, a higher amount specified by law – for example, £20,000 under sections 2 to 6 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974).

To what do the changes apply?

Apart from those offences that are specifically listed in the legislation, the changes apply to all offences that can be tried either in the Magistrates’ Court, or ‘either way’. A wide range of offences will be affected, including those related to:

  • health and safety.

  • corruption and financial crime,

  • corporate and commercial law,

  • data protection and IP law,

  • environmental offences,

  • financial services law

Specific examples of some offences, which were hitherto subject to a £5000 maximum fine, include:

  • making a false statement in order to obtain social security benefit

  • sale of alcohol to children

  • unauthorised sale of (football) tickets

  • manufacture, import and sale of realistic imitation firearms

  • failure to comply with an improvement notice to ensure properties are safe and habitable

  • selling, supplying, offering to supply and hiring products to persons under 18, such as adult fireworks, crossbows/knives/axes/blades

  • harassment (without violence)

The Implications for Magistrates’ Courts

Magistrates’ Courts are currently advised that ‘either way’ offences should be tried summarily unless the court’s sentencing powers are not sufficient to deal with the gravity of the offence.

The change in the law means that henceforth, Magistrates’ Courts will be able to retain jurisdiction over cases that they have, hitherto, been obliged to pass up to Crown Courts.

After the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, courts had the power to impose fines in Band D (where a fine is imposed as a direct alternative to a community order and which can be up to 300% of relevant weekly income) and Band E (as an alternative to a custodial sentence, where the fine can be up to 500% of relevant weekly income). However, those powers were not widely used, because fines were seen as a lesser punishment than the sentences they were replacing. Now, with Magistrates’ Courts having the ability to use increased fines to make a significant impression on the monthly income of an individual who has been subject to a fine, their powers, as mentioned above, may be used more frequently.

It is interesting to note that a fine also has a lesser period of rehabilitation and so if disclosure of unspent convictions may be an issue for the defendant, a larger fine may well seem like a preferable alternative to community orders or custodial sentences.

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