Removal of caps on fines in the Magistrates' Court
The Government has been given the power under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offences Act 2012 to remove or amend the caps on fines that Magistrates’ Court can impose criminal offences.
Although the Act received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012 these particular changes have not yet been commenced. However, if and when the changes are brought into force they will apply across all business sectors and will affect a very wide range of legislation, including health and safety and environmental laws.
At present, and since the Health & Safety (Offences) Act 2008 the maximum fine for most health and safety offences where they are sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court is £20,000 and/or six months imprisonment where an individual has been convicted.
When section 85(1) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 comes into force any offence punishable on summary conviction, where the fine is currently capped at £5,000 or a higher amount, will instead face a fine of unlimited amount. This will not have a retrospective affect.
The removal of the cap was not part of the bill when it was first laid before Parliament and there was very limited debate on these changes when the Bill was discussed in Parliament.
However the Government have stated on numerous occasions that it wishes to encourage the greater use of fines in the Magistrates’ Court and to allow the Magistrates’ Court to deal with more cases without the need to commit for sentence cases where they consider that they do not have sufficient power available to them to impose a proportionate sign on wealthy or corporate offenders and organisations.
It will be necessary to watch and wait as to when the Government enacts the appropriate commencement order to bring the section into force.