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How do courts decide on how much to fine someone?

If you are charged with a criminal offence in England or Wales you will likely be summoned to a Magistrates’ Court. This is a lower court of the justice system that deals with summary offences (i.e. those for which a short hearing and fixed penalty fine are adequate) such as:

  • Driving misdemeanours
  • Non-payment of a TV licence
  • Non-payment of taxes
  • Minor criminal damage
  • Some public order offences

If convicted of one of these types of offence you will be given the judgement of a fine.

Although to many people the Magistrates’ Court fines seem quite arbitrary, the amount is worked out using strict guidelines and consists of four separate elements (we’ll look at these in more detail in a moment).

What should I expect at my hearing?

The Magistrates’ Court hearing will begin with what’s called the ‘First Mention’. The First Mention comes when you appear in Court, hear the charges against you and plead guilty or not guilty to the offence(s).

If you plead guilty, the judge will probably sentence you there and then and fine you according to the Magistrates’ Court trial process put down by the justice system.

If you plead not guilty, another hearing will be arranged at which there may be witnesses.  Should your case reach this second ‘summary hearing’ stage, a Magistrate will weigh up the evidence against you and either pronounce a sentence or dismiss the case.

Once you have been sentenced, the Court is obliged to send to you a copy of the collection order discussed during the trial. This typed document spells out what actions are expected of you in order to clear the Magistrates’ Court fine.

–              The court makes a collection order detailing how the fine is to be paid
–              The details are sent to you after the case is closed
–              You are offered the chance to pay court fines in instalments or you may be ordered to pay an amount within 10 days. The order will also include details of how to pay.


What determines the amount of the fine?

The word fine comes from the Latin word to ‘finish’ or to ‘end’ something. These days it can be said to be a pecuniary measure to ensure that justice is served in respect of a crime. The Magistrates’ Court trial process is a type of restorative justice.

Whereas Magistrates’ Court fines in the UK used to be capped they can now be of an unlimited amount.

There are two main determinants to the level of a fine:

Your ability to pay, and

  1. The nature and seriousness of the offence
  2. Your ability to pay

The court knows that levying a fine against someone who has very little income or few assets is pointless. So, they will take into account your financial status before passing judgement at the Magistrates’ Court hearing.

There may still be something to pay but it will be better measured against reasonable living costs.

Leslie Franks will be able to help you should you wish to present the court

with good reasons for a reduction in, or remittal of, your penalty.

  1. The nature and seriousness of the offence

The court uses statutory offence guidelines to determine how much a fine will be. Here are just some of the clauses of assessment:

  • Which sentencing thresholds have been crossed
  • The offender’s culpability in committing the offence
  • The effect of aggravating and mitigating factors
  • A reduction of the sentence for a guilty plea
  • The need for ancillary orders, including compensation

(Sentencing Council, 2017)


What are the elements of a fine?

There are four elements of a Magistrates’ Court fine:

  • The penalty notice (often a fixed amount)
  • Court costs (the figure for a guilty plea is around £50)
  • Compensation
  • A victim surcharge (10% of the fine value)

A Magistrates’ Court will sentence you with a fine for things like not paying a Fixed Penalty Notice, non-payment of Transport for London fares and minor criminal damage. But the Court can also order you to pay compensation, Court costs and a victim’s surcharge, where applicable.


What is a fine remittal?

Ultimately, the details of the case will determine the decision of the Court at the end of the Magistrates Court hearing. The judge can allow the defendant more time to pay the fine or reduce the amount of each instalment of payment.

But if handled correctly the fine may even be cancelled

To ‘remit’ a Court fine is to have it ‘wiped out’ at judicial discretion with the circumstances of the convicted person being taken into account within the Magistrates’ Court trial process.

Legislation in England Wales states that:

“Where a fine has been imposed on conviction of an offender by a magistrates’ court, the court may at any time remit the whole or any part of the fine, but only if it thinks it just to do so having regard to a change of circumstances which has occurred”

(Magistrates Court Act, 1980).


Can Leslie Franks get my fine remitted?

Leslie Franks comprises a team of highly experienced defence solicitors. We look at all aspects of a case to be presented to the Court within the Magistrates’ Court appeal process.

We have already been able to remit thousands of pounds worth of Magistrates’ Court fines by using various pieces of legislation from the Magistrates Court Act of 1980.

Contact us 24 hours a day to find out more on 0844 414 6035

And let one of our highly-experienced lawyers begin the process.

By carefully working our way through the judicial directives of the Magistrates’ Court trial process we can even eliminate Court costs and victim surcharges (which are determined by warrants of commitment issued under s.76 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980).

As an example:

We can have your fine reduced or remitted by arranging instead for a Courthouse detention. This means that you will be detained in the precincts of the Court for 2-3 hours; after which the fine is remitted.

A word about compensation and costs

Compensation and costs cannot be remitted in the same way as a fine but according to the UK’s Sentencing Council Guidelines: ‘Where payment is unlikely or impractical due to the defaulter’s means or circumstances, the sum may be discharged or reduced. Victims and claimants should be consulted and given an opportunity to attend the hearing.’

Leslie Franks aims for a complete annulment of these elements of the Magistrates’ Court fine too.

For further information get in touch with us via our Helpline 0844 414 6035 or Contact Us.

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