Letter: Advantages of the scrapped fine system

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Home Secretary's decision simply to dispense with the unit fine system ('Earnings-related fines scrapped', 14 May), rather than reform its acknowledged flaws, is greatly to be regretted.

Unless all magistrates' courts exercise their discretion to continue the system in non-statutory form, the result is likely to be a rapid escalation in the number of people who are received into prison for fine default.

The main problem with the unit fine was, of course, of the Government's own making. It was the Government itself that quadrupled the maximum value of each unit compared with the four highly successful pilot projects. The Home Secretary's assertion that it was not possible to revert to the procedure that applied in the experiments is wholly unconvincing.

The way in which a fixed monetary penalty discriminates against the poor and in favour of the well-to-do is of course the central dilemma of the fine. For this reason, many countries both in Europe and in Latin America have developed ways in which fines are imposed in multiples of the offender's income. The system has successfully operated in Scandinavia, for example, for more than 60 years. What is it about this country, that a similar mechanism is abandoned after just six months?

Yours faithfully,

STEPHEN SHAW

Director

Prison Reform Trust

London, N1

14 May

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