Oldham Justices

Though not even in force yet, there has already been criticisms of the proposed new law by Lord Justice Rose10, calling it"conspicuously unclear in circumstances where clarity could easily have been achieved", he went on to say that, although barely in force, that provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 had been "bought into force prematurely before appropriate training could be given". Surely the government should have learnt from its mistakes of poor implementation on this law in the past, and should make every effort to bring clarity to it.

The law fines may not always be clear, though it is there for magistrates to interpret and implement as they see fit. However, there seems little point in using the sentence if it can not be enforced. Between 2000-02 the average payment rate across England and Wales was 59%,  57. 9 million were written off and i?? 90. 4 million were cancelled11. There are several reasons for this high amount, but there seems to be two categories of none payers, those who can not pay, and those who will not pay.

Until recently, if you did not pay your fine, for whatever reason, you would be sent to prison; this view has changed in recent years, making it that this sentence is now used, only if all the other alternatives have failed. Recent Home Office reports have cumulated in three sanctions that the court must carry out while using the sentence, these are enabling, ensuring and enforcing the fines. Enabling methods include allowing the offender to pay the fine in series of instalments12, these instalments normally run for the period of a year; however, as decided in Olliver13, it can be for a longer period in exceptional circumstances.

While allowing these circumstances, Lord Lane C. J. made it clear that "one of the objects of the fine is to remind the offender that what he has done is wrong". Section 85 also enables the magistrates the option of remission, to void all or any part of the fine, if there has been a change of circumstances since his conviction. The court can also ensure that they get the fine by taking the offenders money before it even gets into theirs hands. An attachment of earnings order14 allows the court to take the money directly from the offenders wages, the court can take the money directly from the offenders income support15.

The courts also has the power of the Money Payments Supervision Order16, allowing the offender to be searched for money. The magistrates have the most powers to enforce the fine, these range from a driving disqualification17 to having the fine increased18 by 50%. This scheme has been piloted in several areas around the UK, and also gives the offender an incentive to pay the fine early, as it would be reduced by 50%. The enforcement measure vary depending on whether your classified as a "can't payer" or a "won't payer". *** Case law has shown that the courts are increasing favouring these alternatives to sending the offender to prison.

In Oldham Justices19, Simon Brown LJ said that prison should only be used if "no sensible alternative presents itself", a point that was echoed in St Helen's Justices20, which stated that prison could only be used if all other enforcement methods had been attempted or used first. Statute law followed the cases lead and the Criminal Justice Act 2003, though not fully in force yet, states in section 300, that instead of a prison sentence, the offender can be ordered to comply with unpaid work or a curfew order with electronic monitoring.

This does not aid the court in getting more of the fines, and although the systems will use the tax payers money to implement, it will not be as much as the 120 a day that it costs to imprison an offender, it's submitted that this is a step in the right direction. Therefore it can be seen that with the modernising of the law, the ways of enforcing it have followed the trend. The one aim that has always been there is that of equal impact, as mentioned above.

Obviously a 80 fine is going to have little effect on a millionaire, but a major effect on somebody on benefit, in the same way, the thought of a short prison sentence may be acceptable by some and not by others. This point was bought to the attention of the courts by the Home Office Advisory Group21, stating that people with prison experience, high fines and family support would normally just accept a few days in custody to avoid paying the fine. Similarly, should someone be punished if they "can't pay" the fine in the same way and someone who just "won't pay" the fine.

One suggestion on how to tackle this system again comes from Dr. Robin Moore who suggests a multi dimensional approach 1 Bottoms, 1987:180 2 R v Michele Messana (1981) 3 Cr App R (S) 88 3 R v Prince Alfred Fairbairn (1980) 2 Cr App R (S) 315 4 C B. Gibson, Unit fines (1990), Waterside Press, p11 5 Gordon Greig, Clarke ends Court Farce, Fines system scrapped, page 6 6 Heather Mills, Rush over sentencing law 'will lead to chaos'; the new Criminal Justice Act comes into force today. Heather Mills reports, page 2