The approaches used to enforce fines imposed in magistrates' courts in England and Wales were studied by means of a survey of almost 2,000 offenders who appeared in 25 means inquiry courts in 1994 and 1995 and interviews of magistrates and other court personnel in 1996.
Defaulters most often said that they had not paid their fines either due to a change in circumstances that prevented payment or to other financial commitments or debts. Female offenders defaulted at a higher rate than male offenders; only 1 in 10 women had jobs and 81 percent had dependent children. Only one in five male defaulters was employed. Four-fifths of the defaulters appearing in the means courts owed less than 500 pounds. Six percent of defaulters were immediately committed to prison, while 23 percent received a suspended committal and would be imprisoned if they failed to pay their fines. Almost half of defaulters who appeared in the means courts were given further time to pay. Three percent of defaulters had their fines fully remitted; another 6 percent had part of their fines remitted. Approaches rarely used included attendance center orders, orders for attachment of earnings, money payment supervision orders, and deductions from benefits. Magistrates gave different reasons for their lack of use of each of these approach. However, a judicial decision made since the survey was conducted requires magistrates to state clearly their reasons for using prison rather than other measures. This decision has led to revised enforcement procedures, greater use of noncustodial enforcement measures, and a significant decline in imprisonment for fine default. Figures, tables, footnotes, appended background information, a list of other Home Office publications, and 18 references
Great Britain Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate
Room 201, 50 Queen Anne's Gate, London, SW1H 9AT England, United Kingdom
Research Study 165