Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dubious Means

All of the fines that Magistrates can impose are calculated as a multiple of the miscreant's "relevant weekly income" - which is the figure they've scrawled on their means form.

You'd expect that these figures are checked ? No, they are not.

Spot checked - maybe one percent of them ? Nope.

We have to take the offender's word as to how much they earn, and without wanting to be rude, some of these people have been repeatedly proven to be unreliable in other matters, so it's entirely possible they would lie here.

As a result, the fines imposed I suspect are often grossly under-calculated, except in the cases where the offender has been helpful enough to tell the truth.

So, here's an opportunity to increase government revenue and remove a penalty for honesty. Spot-check the forms when Magistrates have suspicions that the income is understated and check a small percentage of the rest.

I'll give you an example:-

A part-time security guard, who also ran a business trading cars, was caught driving his girlfriend's car which he claimed to be taking for an extended test drive of over three days with a view to buying it. When stopped by police, he protested that his motor trader's insurance covered him to drive any car for any length of time as long as he was thinking of buying it. To cut a long-ish story short, we decided that this wasn't on and found him guilty of driving without insurance.

When he filled in his means form, he disclosed his income as a security guard, but nothing relating to his income from motor trading. His solicitor had told us that his motor trader's policy was costing him over £1,000 per month, so presumably he was earning at least as much to make it worthwhile.

We had no alternative but to fine him a multiple of the extremely low earnings he had disclosed, despite knowing damn fine that he had other sources of income.

I don't think that's right.

Vote Stan.


2nd Violinist said...

It was open to you to draw your own conclusions and state why, see below from te guidelines:

"No reliable information
11. Where an offender has failed to provide information, or the court is not satisfied that it has been
given sufficient reliable information, it is entitled to make such determination as it thinks fit regarding the
financial circumstances of the offender.4 Any determination should be clearly stated on the court records
for use in any subsequent variation or enforcement proceedings. In such cases, a record should also be
made of the applicable fine band and the court’s assessment of the position of the offence within that
band based on the seriousness of the offence."

Then the offender cold ask for a means enquiry if he wanted to provide the evidnce to argue!

phatboy said...

I'm not sure how wide spread a problem this actually is. In my experience the vast majority of defendants have little money or get their money through sources that the court would find very difficult to check - such as thefts or drug dealing or cash in hand work. None of this is likely to ever find its way through a bank account. It's fairly easy to tell the two apart... first group arrives at court looking poor (i'm sorry but there is a look about some people) and saying they have no money. The second group arrives in designer clothes carrying about 4 mobile phones, all brand new and saying they have no money.

Then there is the cost of undertaking these checks. I'm told that one of the reasons for dropping the old means test was that it cost more to administer than it cost to provide universal legal aid - something which we may well find happens again under the new means testing. I can't imagine that it would be cheaper for the Court Service to employ a large number of financial investigators to trawl all the various financial info and make a decision like that for what would still turn out to be a relatively paltry fine.

Also, there's the question of proportionality to consider. Is it proportional to have the state go through a persons full financial life - which will necessarily intrude on their private and family life when you start asking things like do you have a partner? kids? how old? what expenses to you have for your home, kids, partner etc? All that just to get a few extra quid?

I'm sorry but I don't see it working and as had already been pointed out you have the power now to make enquiries if your not satisifed. I've seen at least one judge have a defendant searched who she thought had more cash than he was letting on... she was right as well.