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Who pays the fine when a child breaks the law?

Stories about children getting into trouble with the law are nothing new. From vandalism to petty theft and anti-social behaviour, public outcry often demands that something be done. 

The law is only too happy to oblige – but often it’s the parents who pay the child’s debt to society. If an offender is under 18 when a fine or other financial penalty is levied, mom and dad usually get the bill.

When handing down sentences for a crime, youth courts have many options. Depending on the child’s age amongst other factors, fines, orders and penalties can be given under four categories:

  • First Tier Penalties
  • Community Penalties
  • Custodial Sentences
  • Ancillary Orders

First Tier penalties can include fines. The maximum fine for an offender  under 14 years of age is £250 in Youth Court sentencing. If the child is between the ages of 13 and 18, the maximum fine is £1,000.

The size of the fine depends in part on the seriousness of the offence and how much the youth can pay. If the child is under 16, the youth court is compelled to order that parents or guardians pay the fine.

Youth court fines can be levied at these levels based on the age of the child:

  • 10-13 years: A maximum fine of £250
  • 14 years: A maximum fine of £1000
  • 15 years: A maximum fine of £1000
  • 16-17 years: years: A maximum fine of £1000

Ancillary Orders can include an order to pay compensation in any case where there has been loss, injury, or damage as a result of the offence. 

The youth court can order the child to pay all or part of the prosecution’s costs (within reason). In the case of under 16s, parents or guardians will usually be ordered to pay.

If the child does not have much money, then a compensation order may be given preference over a fine or costs. The rules establishing responsibility for payment are the same as the rules outlined for fines or costs levied against under 16s’. Parents or guardians are expected to pay.

What happens when a parent is expected to pay?

The truth is that, fairly or unfairly, the cost of a child’s criminal behaviour can be considerable for parents. The youth courts do not carry out a means assessment of the parents to understand their financial situation or query their ability to pay a fine, costs, or other order.  

Even if the child becomes an adult and starts working, because the crime was committed while they were under 18, it’s still the parent who has to pay.

What if I can’t pay the fine?

If you receive a court fine because of a crime committed by your child, there is only so much you can do yourself to fight it. 

You might make a case for a reduction if you can provide evidence of low income and minimal assets. But if you find yourself with a summons for non-payment, unpaid court fines, or believe the fine to be unlawful, we may be able to help.

As a highly successful firm of criminal defence solicitors, we are experts at resolving such situations. Our advice is free and impartial, and if you wish, one of our fully-qualified solicitors may be able to represent you in court.

If you have a low income or are on benefits, after a successful application for legal aid, we may also be able to represent you free of charge.

For more information, contact us today on 0800 612 7128 (24hr) or visit https://www.cantpaymyfine.co.uk.

Understanding the Single Justice Procedure

Occasionally the drive to make things more efficient creates unintended consequences. For many defendants, the arrival of the Single Justice Procedure (SJP) for minor offences has brought needless stress and hardship.

The system, which was rolled out to all courts in England and Wales in 2015, was introduced by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to speed up processing of less serious offences such as rail fare avoidance, failure to pay the TV licence, and minor driving infractions: some 750,000 of which are dealt with by magistrates every year and normally result in a guilty plea.

Under the process, anyone accused of a range of non-custodial infringements (offences that won’t result in jail time) can enter a guilty plea by post or online form and have their case dealt with in a closed court.

In some cases you can see the logic behind it. Minor offences take up court time and the majority can be dealt with quickly by administrative means.

But the SJP has generated controversy. Magistrates have accused the Government of choosing efficiency over open justice by establishing a system which moves hundreds of thousands of offences behind closed doors.

And while it arguably streamlines court processes at the administrative level, there are concerns about the procedure’s fairness. Football stars may welcome it as a means of quietly pleading away non-serious driving offences, but the SJP can also be a blunt instrument that causes pain and consternation for normal people.

One of the main issues is the blanket assumption under SJP that anyone accused of an offence has a weekly income of at least £440 (based on the current national median income for pre-tax earnings). Unless the court receives evidence to the contrary, that income level is used to assess the ability to pay fines.

With court notices normally sent by post, if someone accused of an offence has moved address, they won’t be aware they are being prosecuted. The forms they need to complete to enter a plea aren’t sent in, and as a result, they are found guilty in absentia and sentenced based on a presumed weekly income that may be higher than what they actually earn.

The reality of SJP is that many of the people falling foul of it are either on benefits, low income or no income – yet the courts persist in presuming that anyone accused of an offence can afford an expensive fine.

If an accused didn’t pay their bus fare or TV licence, it stands to reason that they are unlikely to be earning £440 per week. For skipping a £1.50 payment they could end up with a fine of £500 or more.

What if an accused person can’t read or write, or has learning difficulties? What if English is not their first language? How are they meant to navigate what is supposed to be a simplified procedure? These are serious questions that affect legal outcomes every day.

It’s worth noting that, since 2010, the government has closed more than half of all magistrates’ courts, forcing defendants and sometimes police officers to travel 50 miles or more to access the justice system.

How SJP works in practice

Under SJP defendants receive a Single Justice Procedure Form that sets the allegation and the evidence that a prosecutor intends to rely on.

The form’s main purpose is to ask what plea you wish to enter (guilty or not guilty) in response. The deadline for doing so is tight – 21 days from the posted date on the form. Response time is clearly a factor, particularly if you plan to contest the allegation.

The form provides three plea options:

  • Not Guilty
  • Guilty and not attend Court
  • Guilty and attend Court

The Court will only accept ‘guilty and not attend court’ for the least serious offences.

What you can do if accused under the SJP

If you were unaware that you had been accused of an offence under the Single Justice Procedure and missed a court date, you may be able to submit a statutory declaration setting the conviction and sentence aside, after which you will be given a new date to attend court and begin the procedure again.

If you were aware of the allegation but didn’t understand the process or your responsibilities, and defaulted on the fine, you may be able to bring the matter back before the court. This is sometimes possible under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, s.165 (2).

Along with the Single Justice Procedure Form, the Court will send a “Means Form,” which is used to clarify your actual income. We may be able to assist you with completing and returning it, as it provides evidence the Court will use to determining the size of a fine if you either plea or are found guilty.

In any case where you have been unaware of proceedings, missed a fine because you were unclear on the procedure, or plan to plead not guilty, we would strongly advise you to obtain legal advice, and potentially have someone to attend Court with you.

How can Leslie Franks help me?

There is only so much you can do yourself when you receive a court fine. For instance, you can make the case for a reduction in instalments if you can provide evidence of low income and sparse assets.

But if you find yourself with a summons for non-payment, unpaid court fines, or consider the fine to be unlawful, we may be able to help.

As a highly successful firm of criminal defence solicitors, we are experts at resolving such situations. Our advice is free and impartial, and if you wish, one of our fully-qualified solicitors may be able to represent you in court

Our services include:

  • Presenting a court case with a view to cancelling a fine
  • Organising and presenting a budget to the court
  • Making a plea for a fine to be suspended
  • Defending a non-payment of fine

If you have a low income or are on benefits we may also be able to represent you after an application for legal aid.

That is to say:

If the application for legal aid is successful, our services to you would be free of charge.

For more information contact us today on 0800 612 7128 (24hr) or visit: https://www.cantpaymyfine.co.uk.

How Charities are Helping with the UK’s Rising Debt

According to research conducted by Money Advice Service (MAS) and CACI back in March of this year, 8.3 million UK families are living in debt. While it wasn’t reported exactly what type of debts so many people are struggling with, at Can’t Pay My Fine, we know that past-due fines are certainly a big part of the problem.

It’s sad to hear that, more and more, debts are becoming overwhelming and procedures for debt collection more intense and invasive. In May, it was reported that 20-year old Jerome Rogers tragically killed himself after two £65 fines escalated to £1000 and bailiffs clamped the bike that he used for work as a courier and waited outside of his home for nearly three hours.

The homeless are also being targeted as The Guardian reported that at least 51 people who have been convicted since 2014 after failing to pay fines of up to £1,100 for begging and loitering.

This certainly paints a grim picture not only of how fines – whether a result of speeding, TV licensing, unpaid child maintenance or court convictions – can dramatically affect a person’s well-being, but also how they can be targeted at disadvantaged groups.

The problem is so evident that, after Mental Health Awareness Week, the Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Halton urged anyone worried or stressed about their finances to get in touch for support.

While not all cases are this extreme, racking up debt does take its toll as it becomes more difficult to pay monthly bills and bailiffs can threaten your possessions, home and even freedom.  During such stressful times, many people don’t know where to turn. More and more, debt and other crisis charities are helping support Brit’s on their road to financial stability and mental recovery.

So, how can they help? While of course this depends on the individual charity, its mission and its resources, the goal is always to get you back on your feet, whether that be financially or emotionally. Most will offer support groups, helplines, individual advocacy and legal advice in order to give you practical solutions to move forward.

There are hundreds of charities throughout the UK, especially in London. While this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, we do hope it helps if you or anyone you know is struggling with lingering debts.

Crisis Charities

Nia

Crisis

Homeless Link

Refuge

 

Debt Charities

Step Change

Debt Advice Foundation

Christians Against Poverty

Crosslight

 

To find out more information about each charity and to find out how they might be able to help you with your current financial situation, click through the links above.

Please also be aware that Can’t Pay My Fine can assess your case to find out if you’re entitled to free legal aid, with no prior costs involved.



Owing Council Tax

OWING COUNCIL TAX                                

We all have to pay council tax.  If someone owes an amount in council tax, the council may bring the case to the magistrates’ court, and the magistrates must then decide whether the debtor is guilty of wilful refusal or culpable neglect to pay the full council tax owed.  If the magistrates find wilful refusal or culpable neglect, then they have a number of options of what to do.  They may order deductions from benefits or from wages or salary to pay off the debt.  They can remit the debt if the debtor has no benefits, has no savings, and doesn’t receive any wages or salary.  Imprisonment is a last resort and must not be imposed if there is an alternative.  Magistrates have no powers to punish for council tax default.

 

THE REGULATION

The law is set out in Regulation 47 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992. How that law should be enforced has been laid down by the High Court in a series of rulings which were made in the 1990s when thousands (about 1,200 people each year in 1993 and 1994) were sent to prison for not having paid in full their poll tax.  Some of these imprisonments were challenged in the High Court and the High Court declared them to have been unlawful.  This made the law clear about when magistrates can order custody for someone who owes poll tax.  The case law regarding poll tax imprisonment applies equally to imprisonment for council tax default, as the law on enforcement is essentially the same. When reviewed by the High Court the vast majority of these poll tax committals were held to have been unlawful.  When challenged at the High Court, council tax imprisonment has been found to be unlawful.

 

AN ORDER TO REPAY THE DEBT

Magistrates Courts may order someone who owes council tax to repay the debt in instalments.  A recent case in the High Court considered such orders.

The Court said:

It is usual, although not obligatory, for magistrates to suspend at least a first committal order on condition that the subject makes regular instalment payments towards the arrears.  However, they cannot make any unreasonable order for repayment.  Therefore, each instalment to be paid must be reasonable in amount, given the assessment of means that has been conducted. Furthermore, the period for which instalments are to be paid must be reasonable.  This is considered further below … but, generally, where the period is two or three years, an order will be reasonable.  Cases will be rare in which an instalment period of over three years will be appropriate.  In no case has an instalment period of over five years been considered appropriate. 

 

WHAT THE MAGISTRATES MAY DO

The magistrates have no powers to punish anyone who owes council tax.  Owing poll tax or council tax is a civil debt, it is not a crime.  The power to order imprisonment is to be used to force payment where the debtor has the means to pay.  This power may not be used to punish someone for not having paid.

‘The court has now repeatedly made clear that the purpose of the powers of the court under Regulation 41 are not the powers of punishment for past misdeeds, but powers to ensure future payment of past liabilities’.

Imprisonment is a last resort.  It cannot be imposed if there is an alternative.  ‘It is established that it is wrong in law to pass a sentence of imprisonment when an alternative to imprisonment is available.’

There is always an alternative open to the court.  If the debtor is on benefit the magistrates may order deductions from benefit until the debt is cleared.

If the debtor works, the magistrates can order attachment of earnings, and the employer must pass the money to the council before the debtor receives wages or salary.

If the debtor has no benefits and receives no wages, but has money in the bank, the court can order an attachment to that money to clear the debt.

If the debtor has no money in the bank, no wages, no benefits, they cannot be refusing to pay, nor can they be guilty of ‘culpable neglect’ to pay: there is therefore no power to commit to prison.

The court can cancel the debt if is seems to be the just thing to do.

 

TO CONCLUDE

There is currently a campaign organized by Naima Sakande of the Centre for Criminal Appeals asking the Government to repeal the provision to commit someone to prison for up to three months because of council tax default.  We argue that there is no place in a modern society for the cruel and unlawful practice of imprisoning some of the people who have the most difficulties in life and are least able to cope, for the ‘crime’ of not having a circle of friends or family who can come to the rescue when times are tough. In these days this legacy of the past should be taken o the statute book. Prison is a place for the most serious and dangerous of criminals, those whose crimes have caused the most trauma and damage. It is no place for those who have experienced financial hardship and are in debt:  https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/mar/26/taking-action-for-those-jailed-over-unpaid-council-tax

See:

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=23237%3Aimprisonment-for-council-tax-default&catid=49%3Acomment-a-analysis-articles&Itemid=1

 

R.Epstein, Imprisonment for Debt, Criminal Law & Justice Weekly,  Vol. 181, 4 February 2017.

 

Rona Epstein is a Research Fellow in Coventry Law School

R.Epstein@coventry.ac.uk

Payment Plans

Get help reducing what you pay to fit with your circumstances.

Not only can we help to reduce your fine, we can assist with payment plans so that the remaining balance can be paid off in affordable monthly repayments that fit in with your circumstances. Payment plans can ensure your finances don’t suffer and that you can actually afford to pay what is proposed.