22nd October 2019
Court opinion in full is available here
In this case, the Sheriff Appeal Court issued guidance about whether there is a general rule that a fine payable by instalments should be repaid within a year, and concluded that, in fact, there is no such rule.
This case is about how courts should go about imposing fines in summary criminal cases, where these fines are to be paid by instalments.
The accused pled guilty at an intermediate diet in the JP (Justice of the Peace) Court, Edinburgh, to driving without a valid licence and driving without insurance, while the subject of two bail orders.
He was fined £100 for driving without a licence (reduced from a headline sentence of £130 to take account of his early plea of guilty) and £400 (reduced from £550) for driving without insurance, a total of £500. His licence was also endorsed with 6 penalty points. The court which imposed the sentence allowed the accused to pay the fines at £30 per month.
When a fine is imposed by a court, it must in determining the size of the fine take into consideration the “means” (financial position) of the offender, so far as these are known to the court.
And a court can also allow time for payment of a fine, or permit it to be paid by instalments.
In this case, the basis of the appeal was that the £500 fine which the court imposed would take almost 17 months to pay at the £30 per month instalment rate fixed by the court. On behalf of the appellant (the person appealing against the sentence) it was argued that this was too long a period, and that the fine was therefore too high.
In particular, it was submitted to the Sheriff Appeal Court that previous decisions in other appeal cases had laid down a rule that, where a fine is being paid in instalments, it should be capable of being paid in no more than a year, and if that cannot be achieved by instalments that reflect the appellant's means then the level of fine is likely to be regarded as excessive.
(The appellant had also argued that the headline fines selected by the JP Court were in themselves excessive having regard to his financial circumstances and the circumstances of the offences, but the Sheriff Appeal Court refused this part of the appeal as well.)