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Financial Penalties as a Sentence of the Court: Lessons for Policy and Practice From Research in the Magistrates' Courts of England and Wales

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Volume: 3 Issue: 2 Dated: May 2003 Pages: 181-197
John Raine; Eileen Dunstan; Alan Mackie
Date Published
May 2003
17 pages
Drawing on research conducted in the magistrates' courts of England and Wales, this study addressed three of the main issues pertinent to the effective application of financial penalties by magistrates' courts.
One of the issues considered was the fixing of fines at levels appropriate to an offenders' ability to pay the fine. Research shows that the magistrates' courts of England and Wales have not been systematic in assessing fine amounts in accordance with an offender's ability to pay the fine. The second issue addressed was the means of enforcing financial penalties when offenders do not meet their obligations. The research reviewed for this study identified the varying personal circumstances and motivations that underlie unpaid fines and has suggested that the courts use a wider range of strategies for responding to fine defaults. A third concern was the wider issue of the use of the fine as a sanction for certain categories of offense. In examining this issue, the article draws on the findings from interviews with magistrates and reports on a range of views regarding the use of fines within the overall sentencing framework. Despite the problems identified in this review of research on the use of fines in the magistrates' courts of England and Wales, the majority of financial penalties are paid promptly and in full, and such sentences are an efficient and appropriate form of penalty for many offenses. This article offers some suggestions for consideration in addressing some of the impediments to a more effective management of financial penalties. 2 tables and 13 references