Friday, 23 March 2007

On-the-spot fines for assaulting Police Officers?

Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips, England and Wales's top judge has said the use of on-the-spot fines should remain limited and crimes such as assault needed to be looked at "in the round" by a judge or magistrate. Lord Phillips said there was concern about a "slippery slope" on which more crimes were "diverted" away from courts.

Fixed penalty notices are used for offences such as speeding, graffiti, public disorder, noise nuisance and theft. In 2005, more than 146,000 were issued.

Last September a leaked consultation paper suggested extending their use to cover offences like assault and threatening behaviour, to ease pressure on the courts.

Responding to the proposals being considered by the Home Office, Alan Gordon, vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, says: “It’s absolutely disgusting and beyond belief that a proposal which could see thugs who assault a police officer receive a mere £100 fine is even being considered by the government. Especially when only earlier this year a survey of our 141,000 members showed that over 40 per cent of respondents had been assaulted in the last two years.““What sort of message does this send to society? The government talks about a respect agenda. Well, someone assaulting an officer getting the same fine as someone who drives into a bus lane doesn’t seem to show any respect for the police. This also contradicts plans in the guidelines on sentencing included within the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which rightly seeks to tackle and address the issue of growing numbers of assaults on emergency workers.” “Let’s look at the reality of fixed penalty notices as well. Currently a third go unpaid and those who receive them get no criminal conviction. Under these proposals someone assaulting an officer or shoplifting will not get a criminal conviction; it’s madness.” “What this seems to be about is money. Rather than increasing the prison population if needed, the government can actually make money by increasing the number of offences which see cash go straight to the Treasury. All this at a time when police officers are demoralised enough, with a failure by the government to honour a pay agreement which has existed for the last 27 years and continual moves to erode the Office of Constable by outsourcing to different agencies many aspects of policing.”
“The Association of Chief Police Officers should also be ashamed of themselves for supporting these Home Office proposals which are a green light to offend for those who flout the law and have no respect for the police.”

The Police Federation also claimed that police are overusing the fines to meet targets. A few weeks ago it warned that some persistent offenders were avoiding picking up a criminal record for crimes like shoplifting, as details of fines did not have to be put on the police national computer.

Mr Gordon, says: “The Sentencing Advisory Panel suggestion that shoplifters could avoid jail no matter how many times they commit the offence is a disgrace. It sends out the wrong message at a time when the police and the public alike are sick to death of a criminal justice system which is far too lenient on those who break the law. The term shoplifting is misleading. It is stealing, and stealing is a crime and should be dealt with as such. The ultimate deterrent to any criminal is a prison sentence. We need more prisons, not a short term fix which will only encourage crime, not tackle it.”

On Thursday, a Home Office spokesman said: "No decision has yet been taken on whether to extend the scheme and any new offences would have to be approved by Parliament."

Q. Should the use of on-the-spot fines be extended to more serious crimes such as assault?

To view the results go to: (These result are archived by the British Library)

1 comment:

james higham said...

The principle's not right - the police are not the judiciary. There should be a magistrate's court for this sort of thing and the fines should be in the region of J1000 and incarceration if it was clearly assault.