UK Liberty

A judge on summary justice

Posted in law and order by ukliberty on January 8, 2008

The Times:

The huge growth in on-the-spot fines to keep offenders out of the courts is in danger of bringing the law into disrepute, the Lord Chief Justice’s chief of staff says.

Lord Justice Leveson, the senior presiding judge in England and Wales, said that the use of fixed-penalty notices in some cases had become a farce.

In one case an offender had accumulated fines to a total of £960 for “no fewer than eight notices for theft, presumably shoplifting, and one for drunk and disorderly”.They were “all unpaid, with no real prospect of ever being able to pay a single one of them”, the judge said in a lecture sponsored by The Times.

The rise of summary justice at the expense of formal hearings in the courts led to 51 per cent of offences being dealt with last year by a caution, on-the-spot fine or cannabis warning. This was the first time in modern criminal history that more than half of offences were dealt with by out-of-court punishments.

Courtroom convictions as a proportion of all offences brought to justice in England and Wales have fallen by almost 20 percentage points in five years. Figures published last month show that convictions in court accounted for 49 per cent of all offences brought to justice in 2006-07, compared with 68 per cent in 2002-03.

Cautions increased by 17 per cent last year to 350,000, fixed-penalty notices issued by the police rose by 37 per cent to 210,200 and warnings for cannabis possession rose from 57,700 to 83,000. Only 52 per cent of the fines were paid in full.

Lord Justice Leveson emphasised in the lecture at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, King’s College, London, that penalty notices for disorder and conditional cautions could still be useful. …

You can download his lecture (91 Kb PDF).

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