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EDITIONS
Monday, 12 August, 2002, 03:37 GMT 04:37 UK
Q&A: On-the-spot fines
New powers for the police to issue parking ticket-style fines for anti-social behaviour come into force on Monday.

Three police forces, Essex, Croydon and West Midlands, will be piloting the fixed penalty notice scheme for various minor offences. North Wales will join the trial next month.

BBC News Online looks at the details.

Why have these fines been introduced?

The government wants to relieve pressure on magistrates courts which become clogged with people accused of minor offences. Most plead guilty and are normally fined by the magistrates anyway, so this is seen as a way of simplifying the process.

However some critics argue that the courts will still be clogged by people challenging the fixed penalty notices.

What sort of offences will attract the fines?

It ranges from drunkenness and disorder - for example if someone is drunk on the highway they can be fined 40 - to more serious offences such as making hoax 999 calls, which attract a fine of 80.

Will the offender have to pay up there and then?

No, as with a parking fine, they will have a fixed length of time to pay through the post.

The scheme should not be confused with proposals mooted by the prime minister two years ago to march offenders to cashpoints and make them pay up immediately.

Mr Blair withdrew that idea after admitting it would not work.

What if the person gives a false identity?

Police will need to see a proof of identity. If the offender does not have any or the officer does not believe they are who they claim to be, they can be taken to a police station.

If a person is visibly drunk they will be arrested until they sober up. A decision would then be taken to either release them with no further action or to impose a fixed penalty notice.

Has there been opposition to the plans?

The government says the scheme is compatible with the Human Rights Act as individuals are able to seek a trial if they challenge the notice.

But civil rights group Liberty claims that acceptance of a fixed penalty notice means an individual has accepted that "behaviour to a criminal standard has occurred".

This, they argue, imposes a penalty without proving beyond all reasonable doubt that an accused offender has committed an offence.

Also, as the name implies, the amount of the fine is fixed - and ability to pay is not taken into account. So people on low incomes will be harder hit than richer people.

Are fixed penalty notices already used for other offences?

Most people will know - and dread - them as parking tickets. They are also used for speeding and other motoring offences such as driving in a bus lane or jumping a red light.

Local authorities also have the power to issue fixed penalty notices to those accused of littering and allowing their dog to foul public spaces.

And Customs and Excise use the method against those entering the country with small amounts of prohibited goods.

See also:

03 Jul 00 | Politics
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