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Last Updated: Friday, 14 January 2005, 12:40 GMT
Fine plans echo 1991 Tory policy
Kenneth Clarke
Mr Clarke used the 1993 Criminal Justice Bill to abolish unit fines
Labour's plans for means-related fines echo the unit fines brought in - and abandoned - by former Conservative Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke.

Under the 1991 Criminal Justice Act, fines were imposed according to a mathematical formula.

The seriousness of the offence was measured on a unit scale of one to 50.

A magistrate assessed the defendant's disposable income on a scale of 4 to a maximum of 100 a week.

The number of units was then multiplied by the disposable income to decide the fine amount, making the maximum possible total 5,000.

But the scheme was criticised for giving paltry fines to the poor and disproportionately large fines to the moderately wealthy.

We should not require magistrates' courts to go through the mechanistic provision currently required under the unit fine arrangements...
Kenneth Clarke,
former home secretary
[Commons, May 1993]
For example, in West Yorkshire, two men convicted over a street fight paid 640 and 64 respectively, based on their income brackets.

In another instance magistrates fined a man 1,200 for dropping litter after they assessed him as meeting the top income rate because he had failed to attend court or supply his financial details.

The fine was later reduced to 48 on appeal.

A number of magistrates stood down in protest over the scheme and another aspect of the act, which stopped them taking into account previous convictions when sentencing.

Eventually, on 13 May 1993, Mr Clarke announced he would use the Criminal Justice Bill then going through Parliament to end the fine system.

Unit fines abolished

He told the Commons: "I am quite satisfied that courts should continue to have regard to the particular circumstances of individual offenders - in particular, to their means to pay - when fixing the level of a fine.

"I have been equally clear for some time, and I have frequently said, that we should not require magistrates' courts to go through the mechanistic provision currently required under the unit fine arrangements.

Mr Clarke went on to say that the Home Office had been trying to find a way of improving the unit fines scheme but had failed to find a solution.

He said the scheme would be replaced with "provisions which will require magistrates fully to consider an offender's means when imposing a fine", but would not require them to apply any mathematical formula.

Then opposition MP Tony Blair welcomed the statement on the "shambles" of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

He said: "Never have we seen so quick a collapse of government policy, even for the present government.

"In dealing with the worst abuses of the act, the home secretary will have much support."


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