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Unlimited fines introduced in magistrates courts

The £5,000 cap on the maximum fine that magistrates can impose has been lifted.

With effect from 12 March, magistrates can issue higher penalties for people committing more serious offences.

The move is designed to give magistrates more flexibility when deciding on punishments. They will still be able to jail offenders for up to six months or to refer the most serious cases to Crown Court if they think a longer sentence is necessary.

The maximum fines previously available to magistrates depended on the seriousness of the offence and were set at five levels, of £200, £500, £1,000, £2,500 and £5,000. The 12 March change removed the upper limit on all fines.

Justice Minister Mike Penning said: “It is important that magistrates, who sentence the majority of offenders who come through our courts, have the power to hand down the appropriate punishment with the severity they see fit.

“Criminals should be in no doubt that if they break the law they will face consequences and where a fine is the most appropriate sentence this could run into several thousands.”

When imposing any fines, magistrates will still take into account the financial means of the offender, in line with the sentencing guidelines.

According to the Sentencing Council, in 2013 fines were used to punish 68 per cent of all offenders (792,942 people).