When the Fixed-Penalty Scheme for motoring traffic offences was introduced, we noted that although it might save the time of the courts and the police, it might also cause the vehicle owner who had committed a minor offence to wonder whether, if he decided to put his case before a magistrate who still found him guilty, he might incur a fine and penalties heavier than had he meekly paid up at the roadside. This is another way, incidentally, in which Britain is following the American pattern of life.
Then we reflected that this was probably an unfair assessment of the jealously-guarded British judicial system. Indeed, the leaflet describing the scheme covers this by saying: “You always have the right to dispute the offence in court, and all the facts about how to do this are spelt out in the fixed penalty notice.”
So far, so good! But when renewing the licence for a vintage car recently, we read again the leaflet which came with the application papers, and were disturbed to discover that it states: “If you are guilty, fines imposed by the courts are usually higher than fixed penalties.” This seems a very shabby way of imposing justice! It is surely a means of encouraging those who are stopped and told they have committed one of the hundreds of possible motoring offences, to abide by a roadside money-extraction system in which fines are fixed at £12 or £24 irrespective of how the alleged “crime” was committed.
There used to be some point in presenting one’s case to a magistrate who, after considering the facts and circumstances, would either pronounce the offender not guilty or impose a penalty which was deemed to meet the individual case. No longer, apparently.
If you wish to exercise your right to appear in court, but fail to prove your innocence to the satisfaction of the bench, you can expect to pay a higher fine than the more casual driver who doles out that £12 or £24 to the police and goes on his way.
This seems like unfair persuasion on the part of the Home Office, and rough justice for the motorist. And it apparently extends even to the heavy fine which can now be imposed for stopping for a few minutes, where it might not be apparent that such parking is against the law.