Letter: Criminal Justice Act: probation, magistrates' fines, children's testimony

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Sir: You report (1 October) that the effects of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 will include the raising of maximum fines in the magistrates' courts to pounds 5,000 and a system which links the fines to the disposable income of offenders. 'Thus', your report concludes, 'the rich will pay more than the poor for similar offences.'

This is not quite so, as the Act precludes the 'unit fine' system from applying to companies, arguably the most significant 'rich' defendants in magistrates' courts because of their appearance in cases involving commercially caused death and injury. The fines imposed on companies are often relatively low. The average fine, for example, imposed on companies in the construction industry (1988-90) in cases involving a death at work in London was pounds 1,282.

In its White Paper (Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public) the Government had expressed the belief that there are 'substantial benefits to be gained from maximising the effectiveness of fines' and, commenting on what is now the old system, stated that 'the level of fine can seem derisory where the offender is wealthy'. These tenets were, however, curiously dropped when the position of corporate defendants was legislated.

Yours faithfully,


Senior Lecturer in Law

Staffordshire University

Stoke on Trent

1 October