Today’s news about a huge hike in the maximum level of fine that can be imposed on a speeding motorist casts a spotlight on what a magistrate’s sentencing powers actually are. Looking at speeding in particular, we see that it is a summary only offence, which means it is almost always dealt with at a Magistrates’ Court, though the case can be committed to the Crown Court for sentencing.
But presuming those on the bench decide to exercise their own powers, how will they set a fine? According to the Sentencing Guidelines Council there are three core elements:
“The amount of the fine must reflect the seriousness of the offence.
“The court must also take into account the financial circumstances of the offender; this applies whether it has the effect of increasing or reducing the fine. Normally a fine should be of an amount that is capable of being paid within 12 months.
“The aim is for the fine to have an equal impact on offenders with different financial circumstances; it should be a hardship but should not force the offender below a reasonable ‘subsistence’ level.”
The guidelines say a speeding offence attracts a Level 3 fine (which under the new regime will have a maximum limit of £4,000) or Level 4 if it is on the motorway (new maximum of £10,000)
Taking into account an offender’s income sounds sensible. What is surprising and not fully explained is why there has been such a huge increase in the maximum fine level now. What is the problem that is trying to be solved? Is there a large number of wealthy speeders for whom the current deterrent is not enough?
Interestingly, the number of people breaking the speed limit, in free flow traffic, has been falling on most roads for the best part of a decade as Department for Transport figures showed last week. Clearly there are still many who are defying the rules but it does suggest that, overall, motorists are becoming more law abiding rather than less.