Fines to be paid over 92 weeks for driving without licence and insurance were ‘excessive’, Sheriff Appeal Court rules
An unemployed motorist who was fined a total of £460 to be paid over 92 weeks after admitting driving without a licence and without insurance has successfully challenged the penalties imposed.
The Sheriff Appeal Court ruled that fines were “excessive” and amounted to a “miscarriage of justice”.
Sheriff Principal Craig Scott QC and Appeal Sheriff John Beckett QC heard that the appellant Andrew Jackson pled guilty in the Justice of the Peace Court at Perth to driving without a licence and without insurance, both charges being subject to a bail aggravation.
On charge 2 the Justice fined the appellant £120 discounted from £180 to include £20 for a bail aggravation and on charge 3 £340 was discounted from £510 including £40 for a bail aggravation.
The justice took account of the appellant having been kept in custody overnight before his appearance in court.
He was aware that the appellant was unemployed and in receipt of benefits of £115 per fortnight with regular expenses of £50 per fortnight.
He explained that he considered it appropriate to impose fines comparable to fixed penalties, and allowed the fines to be paid by instalments of £10 per fortnight, meaning it would take 92 weeks for the fines to be paid.
Both on passing sentence and in his report to the Sheriff Appeal Court, the JP suggested that if the appellant found work he could clear the fines more quickly.
However, the solicitor advocate for the appellant submitted that the justice erred in this respect.
Referring to the opinion of a court of five judges in the 1991 case of Paterson v McGlennan, he also argued that the fines were excessive having regard to the appellant’s means.
While the justice had some discretion as to the level of fines to impose and the time within which they were to be paid, he was bound by the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, section 211(7), to have regard to the appellant’s means so far as known to the court.
The appeal sheriffs held that the justice was not entitled to proceed upon the basis of possible future developments which had “no foundation” in the information before him.
Delivering the opinion of the court, Sheriff Beckett said: “The High Court of Justiciary has indicated on a number of occasions that when a fine is to be paid by instalments it ought to be capable of being paid in about a year.
“Paterson, being a decision by a court of five judges, provides a good example. In that case, the court considered that as the fines would take 90 weeks to pay, and it was not satisfactory in view of the appellant’s income to increase the instalments, they were excessive.
“Whilst each case will depend on its own circumstances and we do not consider that there can be an absolute rule, we are persuaded that in this case it is not appropriate to increase the instalments and that the period of 92 weeks confirms that these fines should be seen as excessive and amounting to a miscarriage of justice.
“Accordingly, on charge 2 we will impose a fine of £60 reduced from £90 for the plea of guilty and on charge 3 a fine of £165 discounted from £250. The total of £225 can be paid at £10 per fortnight.”
© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2020