What is a court fine?
Basically, a court fine is levied as punishment for an offence you’ve been convicted of.
The amount of a fine is determined by the seriousness of the offence. The offence might have been committed against a person or property and yet is sufficiently minor to avoid further punitive action (such as a prison sentence).
If you’re struggling with unpaid court fines, contact us as soon as you can.
The receiving of a fine harks back to the much older concept of retribution: in other words a return of an evil to the wrongdoer. And although that sounds quite sinister these days, court procedures to fine a convicted person are still spearheaded by the Crown’s intention to forfeit, compensate or penalise.
The amount of a fine is determined by various factors (we shall look at these in more detail later).
Generally speaking, the amount will be disclosed to you prior to the court case, especially in cases such as the commission of a minor motoring offence or the settlement of a civil claim.
What happens if you can’t afford to pay your court fine?
What outcome may there be for missed court fine payments? And what are the first things you should do once the fine is imposed to avoid more serious action being taken against you?
Why is a court fine a ‘priority debt’?
Priority debts are payments to other people that if missed or deliberately unpaid can land you with far more serious problems. Examples of priority debts are:
• Mortgage payments
• Rental payments
• Hire purchase orders
• Utility bills
Not being able to or refusing to pay any of these will lead to goods and services being taken from you (again, in very basic terms, a sort of retribution).
Then there are some priority debts for which non-payment leads to forfeiture of a different kind:
• Court fines
• Child maintenance
• Council tax
• Income tax
• TV licence
Refusing to pay these types of debt not only causes you major problems but also can have severely life-changing consequences.
What determines the amount of a fine?
Whereas fines given by Magistrates’ courts in the UK used to be capped they can now be of an unlimited amount. That amount is determined by various means such as your ability to pay and the nature and seriousness of the offence.
For instance, if the convicted person held a position of trust within a company and committed fraud, their fine will reflect both the abuse of this position and the level of compensation of whoever was defrauded.
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 considering an appropriate sentence. There will 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 your penalty.
The nature and seriousness of the offence
The court uses statutory guidelines to determine how much a fine will be. Here are just some of the clauses of assessment. In order to consider the seriousness of the offence (and therefore the amount of the fine) the court will consider:
• 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)
Missing your court hearing
Your fine will be the least of your worries if you fail to turn up at court for you hearing.
If you don’t have a good reason for your absence the Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS) will arrange for your arrest and you’ll be held in custody until your case can be heard.
Not only will this harm your case in respect of what could have been a straightforward matter but it could see your fine increased and may even land you with a custodial sentence of up to three months…
…and you will still have the fine to pay when you are released from jail.
What happens if you can’t pay?
Not being able to pay is the lesser of the two evils of non-payment but there are still certain ways to properly address this problem with the court.
If, following your conviction, you realise you have no means of paying a fine either in the arranged instalments or in full you must contact the sentencing court’s fines officer.
You will be asked to explain your reason for being unable to pay the amount specified, and your circumstances will be assessed.
However, you should 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.
In order to make a good case for reduced payments you will need to show evidence of your income, outgoings and savings and make a case especially if the court’s fine leaves you with little money for other priority debts.
Leslie Franks can help you put together a budget and if need be present your concerns to the court.
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
What happens if you don’t pay?
Earlier, we touched on the consequences of refusing to pay priority debts: if you didn’t pay your mortgage your house would be taken away; failing to pay utility bills leads to you being cut off from the grid.
Deliberate non-payment of a court fine has an equally damaging outcome and solves nothing since, as we have already seen, any fine remains in force as long as it is unpaid. The court will simply issue a non-payment of fines warrant and keep the case live.
Courts demanding payment in England and Wales can impose the following sanctions on someone who refuses to pay a fine:
• The fine can be increased by 50%
• The fine is registered on their credit history for five years
• A percentage of a fine may be taken directly from their benefits or wages
• Bailiffs can be called to their address to seize goods
• The convicted can be ordered to undertake community work
• The convicted can be sent to prison
In Scotland, the courts also have the right to take money from someone’s bank account or have their car impounded.
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 it may be worth your while contacting Leslie Franks.
With being a highly successful company of criminal defence solicitors we are hot-wired to resolve such situations. Our advice is free and impartial and if you so wish you can be represented in court by one of our fully-qualified solicitors.
Our services to you 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:
Our services to you would be free of charge.
For more information contact us today on 0800 612 7128 (24hr) or visit: http://www.lesliefranks.com