Magistrates given greater scope for fines
13th April 2015
Magistrates will be able to hand down higher fines after the passing of new legislation.
The changes will remove the £5,000 upper limit which previously restricted Magistrates, freeing them to levy considerably heavier fines on offenders, even for minor offences.
What has happened?
Section 85 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force on March 12.
Section 85 provides for all fines and maximum fines in magistrates’ courts of £5,000 or more to become unlimited, meaning that magistrates will be able to impose higher fines than previously.
What does this mean?
While the new sentencing powers will not apply to offences committed before March 12, they give Magistrates considerable leeway in terms of the fines they can impose for offences, including those committed by companies.
The expansion of sentencing powers covers a very wide range of legislation, taking in Health and Safety offences such as failing to comply with a requirement of an inspector using his/her Section 20 powers and intentionally obstructing an inspector.
These two offences are triable only in a Magistrates Court so where companies would once have been secure in the knowledge that the maximum fine they could attract would be £5,000, this degree of security is no longer there as Magistrates will be able to impose substantially increased fines.
What do companies need to do?
Naturally no company wishes to find itself convicted of an offence. However, the extension of sentencing powers may make companies and their directors reconsider their approach to any offences previously regarded as relatively minor because of the low fines involved.
With Magistrates no longer restricted by a £5,000 ceiling, companies committing such offences could find themselves considerably worse off.
How can I find out more about this?
For further information on this change or on any aspect of regulatory compliance, please contact Stephen Graham in Ward Hadaway’s regulatory team.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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