How much time do you have to pay a court fine?
If you are charged with an offence in England or Wales, you will usually 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
The 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 sentence you there and then, and fine you in accordance with Sentencing Guidelines. If you plead not guilty another hearing will be arranged.
Should your case have reached this second ‘summary hearing’ stage, the Magistrate will weigh up the evidence against you and either pronounce a sentence or dismiss the case.
It is at this point that, should your sentence include a fixed penalty fine, the judge will tell you the amount they consider just.
The Magistrates’ fine is made up of:
- The penalty notice (often a fixed amount)
- Court costs (the figure for a guilty plea is around £50)
- A victim surcharge
The court uses fairly rigid guidelines to determine how much your penalty will be. The seriousness of the offence is just one of the factors in their sentencing. Others include:
- The offender’s culpability in committing the offence
- The effect of aggravating and mitigating factors
- A reduction of the sentence for a guilty plea
What happens after the hearing?
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 fine.
In short, the process following the hearing is as follows:
– 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.
How much time do you get?
How much time you are given to pay off the fine is determined by various means. The most obvious is by the Court studying the state of your finances. That’s why it’s important to state your financial situation… because it could just help your case for a reduction.
Along with your Court summons, you will have received a Means Enquiry Form (MC100). This is something you are legally obliged to fill out even if you don’t have a job or much money.
This MC100 forms the basis of how the Court will assess the level of the fixed penalty fine and the other elements, and it won’t hear the case unless it has sight of the form.
With this in front of them, the judge won’t issue someone on a low income or on benefits with an order to pay £5,000 before the end of the day. But any order they deem fit must be adhered to; if you don’t pay without good reason you will be met with enforcement.
You can apply to the Court’s fines officer for further time to pay off the fine in one go or to split the payments into instalments. Fines officers are based at the Court where your hearing was held but some Courts use fine enforcement teams that are independent of the Court (although work on its behalf).
Contact details should be included on your collection order.
If the fines officer does not think that you have a good enough case for a rearrangement of payment, you can appeal to the Court within ten days.
If you want to appeal your sentence or fine repayment contact Leslie Franks or phone our helpline:
0800 6127 128 as soon as you can.
Paying court fines in instalments or in full
The court knows that to force someone who has very little income to pay a fine is pointless. That is why arriving at your First Mention with a completed means form will aid your plea. After all, with sight of this form the judge can better measure your ability to pay the fixed penalty fine.
If you have been sentenced and ordered to pay a fine in full but following the Court hearing cannot afford to do so, you may be allowed to split up the amount. However, you will still be asked by the fines officer to explain your reason(s) for being unable to pay the amount specified.
Importantly, you must do this before your first payment is due. You will find yourself on the back foot if you’re slammed with a missed court fine payment before talking to the court.
Leslie Franks can help you put together a budget, and if need be, present your concerns to the court. We are a highly successful company of criminal defence solicitors. Each member of the team is experienced in matters such as these, which need careful and meticulous work to achieve a resolution.
We may also be able to help to have the fine written off or, at the very least:
- Reduce the amount of your instalments
- Extend the period of time in which the fine is to be paid
- Suspend the payment of the fine until you are more financially buoyant
Missing your Court payments
Unless you intend to appeal your conviction or sentence you should not have any missed court fine payments. If you do, the Court can force you to pay and will issue you with an unpaid court fines warrant.
If you still don’t make contact, a Distress Warrant will be issued which is a way for the judge to enforce the payment of a fixed penalty fine.
This issue results in one or more of the following:
- An enforcement order to take money directly from your wages or benefits
- The issue of a Warrant of Control to an out-sourced bailiff company
- The registration of the fine (adding the fine to your credit history for five years)
- An order to clamp your vehicle with a view to the court selling it
If you still refuse to pay the fine and have not lodged an appeal, the court will use its powers to punish you further for the non-payment.
If you’ve been convicted by a Court either in your absence or after appearing and have received a fine that you have no means to pay, we can help.
A quick phone call to Leslie Franks Solicitors could make all the difference and save you a lot of money.
Call us free on 0800 6127 128: our dedicated 24-hour helpline.