Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Motoring News

The list of a day's work that I posted yesterday was not meant to be representative of the courts' workload. I was in a remand court, dealing for the most part with first appearances, committals, and sentencing. Elsewhere in the courthouse trials, youth courts, and private (e.g. local authority) process were being dealt with. In London traffic work has been concentrated into 'Gateway' courts, which is convenient for the prosecuting authorities but inconvenient for drivers who have to travel some distance to their case. In addition the advantage of magistrates' local knowledge has been lost. Under the rules (MNTI2) covering magistrates' continuing training and appraisal we are all supposed to do a bit of every type of work, to retain competence. That has simply been sidelined now. I have not heard a Without Due Care trial for several years; they used to be a regular part of our judicial diet.

I have heard on the grapevine that in the couple of weeks since the new guidelines came into force fines have shot up for many offences, and the courts' enforcement staff are viewing this with alarm. To make fines work, you need a combination of realistic fine levels in the first place, and vigorous enforcement. If someone on a low income is faced with a huge imposition, he is quite likely to give up, and make no attempt to pay.
I will give you a for-instance:-
A straightforward case of no insurance carries a guideline of a band C fine - one and a half weeks' Residual Weekly Income (RWI). Many of these cases result in postal pleas of guilty, and quite a few are proved in absence; it is common for the court to have little or no evidence of income. In such a case the RWI is deemed to be £350, so the fine will be £525, plus £70 costs plus £15 for the pesky Victim Surcharge - total £610. If there are other offences such as no licence, no MoT and so on, the fine will climb still higher. If the offender is in fact on benefit, this will all have to be unscrambled when the fines go unpaid, substituting the deemed £100 RWI of a benefit claimant. The workload will be considerable. Further, there remains an overriding duty to ensure that fines are 'readily payable' in a reasonable time. Not simple, I'm afraid.

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