Magistrates have been given powers to impose unlimited fines across the board in a move which may take many by surprise. The implementation of s 85 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 means magistrates can now impose unlimited fines.
Previously, fines in the magistrates’ courts were capped at £20,000 per charge. Under s 85(1) the limit is removed on certain fines on conviction by a magistrates’ court “where, on the commencement day [12 March], a relevant offence would, apart from this subsection, be punishable on summary
conviction by a fine or maximum fine of £5,000 or more (however expressed), the offence is punishable on summary conviction on or after that day
by a fine of any amount”.
Gerard Forlin QC, of Cornerstone Barristers, says: “It’s a game changer. Only the future will inform us, but it will be extremely interesting to see how many cases will now remain in the lower courts and not be sent up to the Crown Court.
"These cases will include regulatory offences such as health and safety and environmental cases. Further, this change to sentencing powers was also highlighted in the recent Sentencing Council document relating to health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offences guidelines."