Tuesday, June 10, 2014
A fourfold increase in the maximum fines available to magistrates is to be introduced - meaning some speeders could be forced to pay up to £10,000, and disorderly drunks £4,000, the Government said.
Courts will also be able to levy unlimited fines for the first time for the most serious crimes dealt with in the lower courts - such as environmental offences - which at present attract penalties of up to £5,000 or more.
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said the dramatic hike - the first since 1991 and which the Government paved the way for in legislation passed two years ago - would give magistrates the “greater powers” needed to punish offenders.
But motoring groups said the new fines were disproportionate and could put people off challenging unfair speeding tickets.
It comes shortly after the emergence of several high profile speeding cases in Norfolk. This week, police revealed that a motorcyclist in his mid-20s had been clocked at 134mph on one of the county’s roads. The man has been reported for offences of speeding and failing to stop at a red light after the incident on the A11 between the Thickthorn roundabout and Wymondham, in the early hours of May 26.
Last month, statistics obtained using the Freedom Of Information Act revealed how two drivers were caught speeding at 121mph on the A47 bypass at Kirby Bedon and on the A140 at Scole. Both were travelling 51mph over the speed limit.
Magistrates’ Court Guidelines set out how the appropriate level of punishment should be determined according to the seriousness of the offence.
Under the proposed changes the maximums in each category will increase from:
:: Level 1 - £200 to £800. Includes unauthorised cycle racing on public ways.
:: Level 2 - £500 to £2,000. Includes driving a motor cycle without a protective helmet.
:: Level 3 - £1,000 to £4,000. Includes the sale of alcohol to a drunk person or being drunk and disorderly in a public place.
:: Level 4 - £2,500 to £10,000. Includes speeding on the motorway.
Mr Wright said: “Financial penalties set at the right level can be an effective way of punishing criminals and deterring them from further offending.
“Magistrates are the cornerstone of our justice system and these changes will provide them with greater powers to deal with the day-to-day offences that impact their local communities.”
The amount of fines collected reached an all-time high of £284 million at the end of 2012/13 and remains on an upward course.
Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association, criticised the changes.
“For the vast majority of drivers the prospect of the existing £2,500 fine is a pretty good deterrent against excessive speeding on the motorway,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“We would not condone excessive speeding in any way but fines have to be proportionate to the offence and one has to question whether increasing the fines four-fold is proportionate, and it probably is not.
“If we had more cops in cars on the motorway that would be a much more effective deterrent.”
Rupert Lipton, director of the National Motorists Action Group, said it was “disproportionate and draconian”.
“I think it will have a serious chilling effect. We will find motorists will be deterred from going to court where they don’t believe they are guilty of an offence and there is a potential challenge,” he told the newspaper,
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 allowed for magistrates to be give the power to impose unlimited fines for some offences but the Government is only now tabling legislation to put that into effect.
RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: “People who break the law should bear the consequences but this seems such a wholesale change to the system so you have to ask what was going so badly wrong before?
“Ironically we know that speeding offences have declined over recent years and just last week the Department for Transport confirmed that, even after taking congestion out of the equation, recorded traffic speeds have been dropping for a decade on all types of roads.”
James McLoughlin, a spokesman for road safety charity Brake, said: “We are supportive of tougher penalties for speeding drivers.
“Speed is one of the biggest killers on our roads and, through the support we provide for victims of road crashes, we bear witness to the devastating effects of speeding.
“Limits are there for a reason, and more needs to be done to deter those who choose to put other road users at risk by breaking them.”
Pete Williams, head of external affairs at the RAC, said: “What we’re seeing is an ever-increasing level of fines and penalties for motorists coming out of Whitehall with little to no improvement in how these are enforced.
“While legislation clearly needs to act as a deterrent, there seems little point in making such massive hikes without the proper infrastructure to back it up.”
He continued: “Many motorists who do speed or use their mobile at the wheel don’t think they will get caught despite the already significant fines.
“When will we hear the Government is investing in better road safety awareness campaigns and police on the roads, rather than just doling out what looks like revenue-boosting punishment?”