August 18, 2009

Magistrates object to on-the-spot driving fines plan

Transport ministers are expected to press ahead with plans to allow the police to issue fixed penalty fines for careless driving offences, despite objections from magistrates today about the rise of “out of court justice”.

The proposal would mean motorists guilty of minor careless driving offences being issued with a £60 fine and three penalty points on their licence. At a magistrates court the maximum penalties would be a £5,000 fine and nine penalty points.

The Association of Chief Police Officers says it intends to issue strong guidance on the dividing line between minor careless driving offences, when an on-the-spot fine should be issued, and more serious cases which should go to court.

John Thornhill, the Magistrates’ Association chairman, said that recent years had seen a rapid rise in the use of “out of court” justice. In 2003, 68% of all criminal cases were decided by the courts, but this had fallen to only 48% by 2007.

“We have been investigating the use of out-of-court disposals, on-the-spot fines, for the last 12 months, and the evidence we have suggests that on many occasions where the matter is serious police go for the easy option of the on-the-spot fine, because it is done and dusted, dealt with there and then,” said Thornhill.

“What this is doing is turning the police into jury and sentencer. Many of the police actually don’t want to do this, because they believe it’s more important that an independent tribunal which is not fettered by financial considerations or targets makes that decision.”

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