There are some aspects of a society that seem for many to define that society. Swiss trains always run on time; indeed they run like clockwork. Denmark and the Danes could be regarded as tolerant, easygoing, polymorphously perverse, and crazy about bicycles. German industry is so efficient; German cars continue to be in demand as their price rises. French have been described as cheese eating surrender monkeys which is as inaccurate as describing the Irish as drunken navvies although it perhaps could be argued that there are historical precedents for these derogatory opinions. Take almost any country in the world and there will be a national stereotype to be admired and others to be disparaged. A stereotypical criticism of England could be that its streets are always full of litter. And who`s to argue the inaccuracy of that observation? I have posted here and here on litter.
Generally The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 which came into force on 7th June 2005 is the vehicle empowering local councils to issue fixed penalty notices of £50 for those who transgress. c30,000 such notices were issued in the year ended March 2009. For those who do not pay the fine a summons from the local magistrates` courts is the next step in enforcement. The offender is brought to court for non payment of the fine; not for the original offence and can decide to plead guilty and offer what mitigation s/he can resulting in court costs, victim surcharge and a fine not exceeding £2,500 calculated according to her/his means and previous offending (if any) of a similar nature. For those who deny the offence a trial will be scheduled where the defendant can argue her/his case fully protected by legal procedures. Convictions after trial do not enjoy fines` discounts offered to those pleading guilty.
But all too often, as with minor motoring offences, offenders ignore all correspondence in the hope, rarely materialising, that the matter will just go away. And that was how, presumably, Aaron Wilkinson was fined £600 plus £182.50 costs by Nottingham Magistrates’ Court. No doubt this gentleman will be angry and astonished when he receives the notice of what he owes the court. £782 is indeed an outrageous penalty which resulted from careless disposal of litter which could have been settled for £50 if he`d paid the FPN. If he continues to sit on his hands he will receive a visit from bailiffs employed by Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunal Service. The final step in sagas such as this is the summons for an appearance at a means court where he will be subject to an investigation of his financial status. About 100 fine defaulters are imprisoned annually on the basis of wilful refusal to pay or culpable neglect. There are some who would argue that imprisonment for non payment of a fine is an injustice in itself and a disgraceful outcome in a society which considers itself benevolent and operating an enlightened justice system. That argument could be sustained by the fact that c£2 million is outstanding in non payment of fines, costs, compensation etc. There is virtually no likelihood that that amount will ever be recovered although the fines “current account” is perhaps succeeding in preventing an increase in that figure. My own experience was posted here earlier this month.
With a general aversion to courts` imprisoning defaulters and the huge hurdle in place for that purpose in my opinion the only viable way to encourage people like the aforementioned Mr Wilkinson to meet his obligations is for there to be sanctions which can reasonably be employed where required eg unpaid work in the community. However with the enormous changes being imposed upon the probation service I see little likelihood of that happening.