If you heard the press announcement of the increase in fines to four times the old figure do not panic. The law provides for fines set at a maximum of level one through five; this means that instead of having to change each individual piece of legislation every time there is to be an increase, new figures for each of the five levels can simply be inserted.
In this case it has been some time since they were increased, so the figure is high, and the current government financial situation has probably encouraged the substantial hike.
What does it mean to somebody in court?
It is unlikely to be back dated so will only apply to new cases after the increase comes into force. The Magistrates calculate fines based on sentencing guidelines which express fines as a percentage of weekly take home pay. In simple terms if the guidelines say a ‘band A’ fine, which is a minimum of 25% of weekly take home, to a maximum of 75%, depending on the features of the case then a starting point fine will be 50% .
This would mean a fine for someone on benefit being £55 as they assume £110/week. Someone on £1,000/week would be fined £500 in the same situation.
So what difference does it make?
If you are fortunate enough to be a high earner a ‘level one fine’ (which was £1,000 maximum) could be less than 50% of your weekly take home pay. As the maximum fine would be subject to a 30% discount for an early guilty plea the actual maximum fine would be £666. Initially it will be high earners that are paying more as they no longer exceed the cap.
It is probably a matter of time before the sentencing guidelines are redrawn to increase penalties. If you are a high earner all is not lost, there are provisions written into the guidelines to correct the situation for those who have income that would produce disproportionate fines, what has changed is that the simple application of the percentages in the guidelines will now result in that situation happening more often. The solution is to obtain specialist legal advice and representation; there may even be a defence!