Increased Court Penalties for Driving Offences
Victim Surcharge Increase
If you go to court for a minor driving offence and are convicted, it is likely you will have to pay a financial penalty. The total penalty can be broken down into three elements:
- Fine – a punishment for the offence itself. This figure is related to your income.
- Victim Surcharge – an amount based on the fine imposed, the proceeds of which go towards the ‘victims of crime’.
- Prosecution Costs – a contribution towards the cost to the prosecution of bringing your case to court.
For offences committed prior to 16 June 2022, the victim surcharge was set at 10% of the fine imposed subject to a minimum of £34. For example, if you were convicted of speeding and were fined £400, the victim surcharge would be £40. If you were not working and therefore your fine was £120, the victim surcharge would be £34.
For offences on or after 16 June, the victim surcharge imposed has increased four-fold to a massive 40%! This means that a fine of £400 attracts a victim surcharge of £160.
Is the increase in victim surcharge fair?
Possibly not. Most minor driving offences such as speeding do not involve a victim. If they do, the victim will be compensated via their insurers. If the driver is uninsured, the victim can be compensated via the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB). The court also has the power to order the payment of compensation where there is a theft offence or if the driver is uninsured and the MIB will not cover the loss.
The majority of motoring offences are not committed deliberately. They are often committed by people who are usually law-abiding citizens who contribute to society but have made a mistake. Contrast this with someone who has set out to intimidate or cause another harm.
It would be fair to say that the majority of our clients find themselves in court for the first and only time. They are often at risk of losing their licence which means losing their job. Having no income makes it difficult to pay financial penalties. They will usually prioritise payment of the financial penalties above any other debts. This is what they are advised to do by the court. If they don’t pay, they can be brought back to court and sent to prison.
Imagine a driver who relies on his licence for work. He is caught riding a private e-scooter which he has bought in an attempt to save money due to the rising costs of fuel. He doesn’t realise he is doing anything illegal. He is riding carefully and sees many other e-scooters on the roads. There are shops advertising the scooters and their benefits. Police cars pass by regularly and do not attempt to stop him.
One day, he is stopped by the police and reported for driving without insurance. He does not know that he is committing an offence carrying a minimum of 6 points. He already has 6 points on his licence for two minor offences of driving at 35 in a 30mph limit. Now he faces a minimum six-month driving disqualification.
He works as a self-employed electrician, lives alone and has no dependants. The only real impact would be on him if he is disqualified. He has no savings, is not entitled to legal aid and attends court unrepresented. The court rejects his exceptional hardship argument on the basis that loss of job alone is not exceptional hardship. He is disqualified from driving for 6 months.
He gives the court details of his current income of £600 per week so a fine can be imposed. He is given a Band C fine of £600 after credit for his early guilty plea. On top of this, he is ordered to pay prosecution costs of £90. Then comes the victim surcharge of £240 (under the old rules it would have been £60).
The court asks him how the total of £930 can be paid. He has lost his livelihood and does not know how to answer this.
Why in the present ‘cost of living crisis’ has it been considered appropriate to increase the surcharge? The decision has the potential to increase the number of people defaulting and increases the number of people likely to have to return to court. With substantial existing backlogs, this is not ideal.
If the offence is now deemed more serious, would it not be appropriate to increase the fine payable?