Monday, February 16, 2009

Fine Figure

(Thanks to one of the many anonymouses for inspiring a small correction to my version of events hereunder. Does that affect your comment, Kenny ?)

The accused was a gorgeous woman who appeared in the dock in quite the ensemble.

Actually the truth was very different, but if I'm going to be changing the details to protect identities, it seems a shame not to imagine some beauty and glamour. Plus when it comes to making a film version of the blog, here's a part ready-made for Monica Belluchi.

So, let's imagine that the accused was a gorgeous woman.

If you had asked me last month, I would have said that short prison sentences did not work and that fine defaulters shouldn't go to prison.

So how did it happen that my two colleagues and I recently sent this vision of beauty to prison for a relatively short time for non-payment of fines ?

The unpleasant reality is that some time ago she was found guilty of a serious offence and fined. Then, when in considerable arrears with paying the considerable fine, she was given the choice of getting her payments back on track or doing some time in prison.

She chose to say that she would pay the fine.

And then she did not actually pay the fine.

This isn't right and there ensued a long series of events, over a matter of years, during which there were many opportunities for her to save her liberty by coming to an arrangement with the courts. She hadn't made a payment in over a year when she got dragged back into our court to explain herself.

She couldn't.

So, we sent her to prison. I understand that the jails are full and that fine defaulters are not a priority, but really - could she reasonably have expected us to do anything other ?

If the threat of prison for non-payment is an empty one, then who in their right mind would ever pay a fine ? And then what would be the point of fining anyone ?

17 comments:

Kenny said...

You see, this is where I start to take issue; the choice of paying a fine or going to prison. Someone has either done something that merits a spell at Liz's pleasure or they haven't. How is paying a fine even an option?

The way that to some extent you can avoid certain nastinesses because you pledge to cough up just seems anathema to any kind of justice at all in my mind. The US legal system is even worse.

Stan said...

Urghh. Whole different can-o'-worms, mate.

Her Maggis said...

Replying to Anonymous - I have been sitting since 89 and have occasionally put people in prison for non payement of fines since then. Where I think he may be confused is that the original offence had to be inprisonable. In fact, in seperate fines courts we used to open with 'have you brought your toothbrush'. The bad old days. But I totally agree with Stan, no point in a fine with no imperative to pay.

Stan said...

Thanks Her Maggis - the number of issues on which I am confused is high, and not appreciably falling at the moment. I hope there's some entertainment and educational value to my being confused in public.

This was actually also my first custodial sentencing. It didn't feel good (Stan's Inner Voice said "What do you mean - you sent someone to prison over a debt: is this Dickensian London ?!"), but it had to be done.

Any votes for suspending the sentence ?

Anonymous said...

We have the power at ANY point to send someone into custody for non payment of fines.

You do not get any choice in not paying fines to court and you certainly didnt get any choice about having a fine instead of custody.

If you had seen the original post - which Stan corrected, then you wouldnt have misinterpreted my posting Maggis.

Anonymous said...

We have the power at ANY point to send someone into custody for non payment of fines.

You do not get any choice in not paying fines to court and you certainly didnt get any choice about having a fine instead of custody.

If you had seen the original post - which Stan corrected, then you wouldnt have misinterpreted my posting Maggis.

Her Maggis said...

Thanks Anon - although rather forward use of shortened name ;-). And Stan, I still know as little now as I ever did - like having an ID parade and a trial for someone (taxi driver) reported anonomously, denys the allegation, for smoking in a public place (the taxi she was driving). Duh!

Stan said...

Anonymous - please could you choose a name other than anonymous - I'm finding your interventions useful and don't want to confuse you with any of the less helpful anonymouses who have commented recently

Mike said...

After the date of conviction, custody in default of payment of fines can only be imposed if the defendant is already in custody, or appears to have sufficient means to pay immediately, or if the court finds that there has been wilful refusal or culpable neglest. All other methods of collection should either have been found inappropriate or tried and failed. Even at that stage, the court can suspend the term of imprisonment provided that a regular sum is paid until the debt is cleared.

As Stan has found, every punishment other than custody depends on the co-operation of the defendent. Ultimately, if he refuses co-operation the only course is to lock him up. This is a fundamental and basic fact that is often overlooked.

Stan said...

Perfect - we did find culpable neglect and she made no offer to clear the debt. A tricky one for a beginner, but it seems like justice was done.

It was staggering though to think that her debt will now be wiped out and she will be inside for around 50% of the time we sentenced her to.

This means in effect that she will be better off by £'000s per week of actual jailtime by doing time instead of paying money.

Anonymous said...

Stan - do you prison visit - especially a female one - I'd choose paying a debt over a woman's prison any time.

Helpful Anon - and my apologies Her Haggis.

Nationalist said...

Is there no scope for commuting a fine into community service? It seems wrong to jail people for being poor.

Stan said...

If she were poor and could prove she COULDN'T pay then I'd agree. However in this case she WOULDN'T pay.

Mart. said...

Stan, do old comments get deleted? I was in touch to thank you before my interviews. Now I'm in touch again to say thanks, I got through them. Reading your blog and the magistrate blog helped me on 'current issues'. Now the long wait to see if I get the rubber or the concrete stamp!

Stan said...

Good work, Mart - glad this was useful. I'm not intending to delete anything - I'm sure I'll look back later and cringe at my naivety/inaccuracy but I'll leave everything intact - there's an outside chance of someone being educated or entertained.

Anonymous said...

I think you might too Stan but you will be in good company. It is a constant learning and re evaluating curve - if you do it right.

Being poor is not a reason to commute a sentence and if she was ordered by the Court to pay the fine then you do not get "let off" because you are poor. What an insult to all those on job seekers allowance, given fines who duly pay them.

Nationalist - the woman had time to make arrangements to ensure the fine was paid. The facts from Stan are scant to say the least, but it would seem that as a "deduction from benefits" order has not been mentioned, which could have only been implemented at the time of her sentence, she must have presented to the Court as having the funds to pay the fine.

This is pure supisition on my behalf but I imagine not far from the truth.

Mike said...

@ Nationalist
Forgive me if you are aware of this, but fines are expressed as a multiple of weekly income, so that a poor person automatically pays less than a rich one. The idea is that the amount of financial pain is the same, although the £ amount is different.