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Andrew Swan

Member Article

Businesses facing unlimited fines in the Magistrates’ Courts

A change in the law today brings about the end of the upper limit for fines in the Magistrates’ Courts.

The limit was previously capped at £5,000, but this has been abolished under the changes brought in by The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Fines on Summary Conviction) Regulations 2015. Magistrates may now impose unlimited fines for the more serious offences before them, which are deemed ‘Level Five’.

This is a significant widening of the magistrates’ sentencing powers and may have substantial impact upon corporate defendants, who are usually thought to have deeper pockets. The magistrates will retain their maximum custodial sentence period of 6 months, but the ability to impose unlimited fines potentially gives far greater weight to their sentencing decisions.

The new regime is not retrospective, but will affect many offences, including those brought by regulatory bodies. Examples include breach of health and safety laws, company and commercial offences, financial services, and environmental laws.

Justice Minister Mike Penning stated: “… it is important that magistrates, who sentence the majority of offenders who come through our courts, have the power to hand down the appropriate punishment with the severity they see fit. Criminals should be in no doubt that if they break the law they will face consequences and where a fine is the most appropriate sentence this could run into several thousands.“

Solicitor Andrew Swan, Head of Regulation and Financial Crime at Newcastle-based Short Richardson & Forth LLP, commented: “This is a dramatic change to the magistrates’ sentencing powers, which may have a heavy impact upon corporate clients. They will need to be even more cautious of breaching regulatory laws, otherwise the consequences could be substantial. The courts will impose fines which reflect the means of the defendant and now that the £5000 cap has been removed, we may see some significant monetary penalties. Naturally, I would certainly suggest early legal advice.”

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Andrew Swan .

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