QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
LADY JUSTICE RAFFERTY
| The Queen on the Application of Purnell
|- and -
|South Western Magistrates' Court
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Jonathan Hall (instructed by Treasury Solicitor) for the Defendant
Hearing dates: 19 October and 15 November 2012
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President of the Queen's Bench Division:
This is the judgment of the court.
The factual background and the claimant's allegations
(a) The fines imposed on the claimant
i) Included in the account on the South East database were other penalties and fines originally totalling £820. After an appeal against sentence to Croydon Crown Court one fine had been reduced; the amount owed is £705.
ii) On the South Western database there were six accounts. The amount originally owing was £1,785.65, including the costs of £215 of one appeal at Snaresbrook Crown Court on 11 April 2011 where the claimant had been unsuccessful in contesting a conviction at Havering/ Romford Magistrates' Court on 9 February 2011 (the fines for which were recorded on the London North East database, as we explain below). He had paid £395 in respect of these fines; £75 was remitted following a means enquiry. One account totalling £200 was cancelled administratively and one fine was reduced by £160 on appeal. The amount outstanding in respect of these accounts was £955.65, but distress warrants had been issued for some of those amounts.
iii) Amongst the fines included on the North East London database originally totalling £2,760 were:
a) Fines imposed after four convictions in absence at the Havering/Romford Magistrates' Court on 17 April 2009, totalling £1,795.00, inclusive of costs.
b) The costs of another unsuccessful appeal in respect of those convictions at Snaresbrook Crown Court on 18 June 2009 in the sum of £250.
c) A fine, costs and a surcharge totalling £715 imposed after conviction at Havering/Romford Magistrates' Court on 9 February 2011. He appealed unsuccessfully against these to the Crown Court at Snaresbrook on 11 April 2011; the costs of the unsuccessful appeal were, as we have set out, recorded on the South Western database.
(b) The attempts to enforce the fines on the North East London Database
(c) The hearing on 19 October 2011 at the South Western Magistrates' Court in relation to the amounts outstanding on the North East London Database
"Grant of Time to Pay
You owe £2,760
Time to pay £5.00 per week commencing 26 October 2011
If you do not pay the money you owe as the court tells you, you will have to pay it all at once."
No explanation was provided for this significant discrepancy between the decision of the court and the letter sent to the claimant.
(a) The duty of the Legal Advisor
'The role of legal advisors in fine default proceedings or other proceedings for the enforcement of financial order, obligation or penalties, is to assist the court. They must not act in any adversarial or partisan manner. With the agreement of the justices, a legal advisor may ask questions of the defaulter to elicit information which the justices will require to make an adjudication, for example to facilitate his explanation for the default. A legal advisor may also advise the justices, in the normal way, as to the options open to them in dealing with the case…The duty of impartiality is the paramount consideration for the legal advisor at all times; and this takes precedence over any role he may have as a collecting officer…'
(b) The fairness of the conduct of the proceedings against the claimant
(d) The ascertainment of the outstanding fines owing by the claimant.
(e) The period over which a fine may be discharged.
'Thus it seems to us that on a true reading of the authorities there is nothing wrong in principle in the period of payment being longer, indeed much longer than one year, providing it is not an undue burden and so too severe a punishment having regard to the nature of the offence and the nature of the offender. Certainly it will seem to us that a two-year period will seldom be too long, and in an appropriate case three years will be unassailable, again of course depending on the nature of the offender and the nature of the offence.'
"40. ….More commonly, a court will allow payments to be made over a period set by the court:
a. if periodic payments are allowed, the fine should normally be payable within a maximum of 12 months. However, it may be unrealistic to expect those on very low incomes to maintain payments for as long as a year;
b. compensation should normally be payable within 12 months. However, in exceptional circumstances it may be appropriate to allow it to be paid over a period of up to 3 years.
41. Where fine bands D and E apply (see paragraphs 34-36 above), it may be appropriate for the fine to be of an amount that is larger than can be repaid within 12 months. In such cases, the fine should normally be payable within a maximum of 18 months (band D) or 2 years (band E)."
(f) The serious problems facing fine enforcement in London
i) If there are outstanding fines in one of the four London areas to which we have referred, then to find those accounts, the court office has to log into each database separately and then search that database. Whether this can be done depends on whether there are sufficient members of staff with sufficient time at a court to do this.
ii) As we have stated, accounts within the same database can be consolidated, but this requires them to be identified. Human error, pressure of time and the volume of work means that in some cases accounts that could be consolidated are missed.
iii) The Legal Advisor can access the London databases. However, this requires not only the Legal Advisor to have the time to do this at a busy court, but there are technical limitations as only a certain number of persons can access the database at any one time.
iv) If fines are outstanding in an area outside London, as there is no national database, an enquiry will generally only be made by the court if the offender or defaulter notifies the court in the statement of means or in answer to a question. The enquiry then has to be made by phone.
(g) Quashing of the decision. Reconsideration by the Magistrates' Court
"Compensation and costs cannot be remitted but, where payment is unlikely or impractical due to the defaulter's means or circumstances, the sum may be discharged or reduced. Victims and claimants should be consulted and given an opportunity to attend the hearing."