If you have appeared in a magistrates court and been fined by the Judge or Justices of the Peace, it is likely that, before the hearing, you will hve been asked to complete an account of all money coming into your household and all money going out. This account is called Means, short for “Means of Paying”, and provides the court with the information they need to set a fine at a level that is equitable (fair) and can be paid within a six or twelve month period.
Receiving your fine
Once the hearing has concluded and you are told how much the fine is, it is not unusual for you to be told that a letter will be sent to you. This letter is called a Notice of Fine and Collection Order. This tells you the following a. how much the fine is; b. how much you should pay; and c. at what intervals. There will also be a statement on the letter telling you to contact the court immediately should your financial circumstances change. It will also tell you what measures are available to the court should you not pay the fine as ordered. A Notice of Fine and Collection Order will normally arrive 4-5 days after the hearing. This is to allow for an appeal against conviction to be lodged. On conviction, a defendant has 21 calendar days from the date of conviction in which to lodge an appeal against the conviction.
If you're not in court when a fine is imposed...
There are some instances when a defendant will not be in court when a fine is imposed. The most common reason for this is because a person has pleaded guilty by letter. Other reasons include the defendant knows nothing about the hearing and does not know they have been taken to court, or, more worringly, the defendant has attended for the hearing and is deliberately excluded from the hearing. In cases where a person has been deliberately excluded from a hearing, although the courts insist the law allows them to do this, it is incompatible with Article 6 (Right to A Fair Hearing), Article 17 (Prohibition on Destruction of Convention Rights) and Article 18 (Prohibition on Restriction of Convention Rights) and the lawfulness of such proceedings and any penalty resulting therefrom is questionable.
How fines are collected...
There are a number of ways in which court fines can be collected. Cash payments via a machine in the main area of the court building, Payment card to pay cash via a bank or post office, Attachment of Benefits Order or Attachment of Earnings Order. Cash Payments and Payment Cards are the most common methods of paying court fines. Attachment of Benefits or Earnings Orders need to be authorised by the court and contact made with the Department of Work and Pensions and/or an employer.
What to do if a Civil Enforcement Company contacts you about a fine
Do not ignore it! Contact the civil enforcement company immediately and arrange a payment schedule you can realistically afford. You have seven calendar days from your receipt of the letter in which to contact the civil enforcement company. Do not allow the civil enforcement company to bully you into paying more than you can realistically afford. If the civil enforcement company refuses to co-operate, contact the court that imposed the fine and, if they refuse to intervene, escalate the matter to the HMCTS Area Enforcement Team.
What happens if you don't pay a fine?
The Distress Warrant is the most commonly-used means of enforcing unpaid fines and involves the use of Civilian Enforcement Officers (also known as Warrant Officers) directly-employed by H.M. Courts and Tribunals Services (HMCTS) or Enforcement Agents (EA) employed by private-sector civil enforcement companies under contract to HMCTS.
Before a Distress Warrant can be issued, the court must send a statutory notice called a Further Steps Notice, which requests the defendant to bring their fine account up to date, or contact the court if they are experiencing financial difficulties.
If a Further Steps Notice is not sent to a defendant and a Distress Warrant is issued, any enforcement action resulting is unlawful.
What effect a Removal of Implied Right of Access has
Notices of Removal of Implied Right of Access (NoRoIRoA) have no effect where unpaid magistrates court fines are concerned. If enforcement action has been suspended, the EA has no right to be at your home and, thus, no lawful authority to act. In such instances, the court should be contacted immediately and confirmation that enforcement action has been suspended obtained. Obtain names of court staff, date and time enforcement action was suspended and then ring the police on 999. Provide the police with the information obtained from the court.
What powers of entry an Enforcement Agent has
Under current legislation, EAs can enter a property peacefully only, that means, they must not push a person out of the way or assault them in order to gain entry. An EA collecting an unpaid court fine can force entry without a separate warrant or order, providing a valid Distress Warrant has been issued. HMCTS expect EAs acting on their behalf to use the forced entry provisions responsibly and sparingly
What to do when things go wrong.
Human beings are not perfect and things can go wrong. When they do, it is important to know what to do and who to approach in order to put things right.
Where an EA or civil enforcement company under contracted to HMCTS makes mistakes, is malfeasant or ignores vulnerability in the face of evidence confirming it, the matter should be referred, in the first instance, to the civil enforcement company involved, with a copy of the complaint to the enforcement team at the court that imposed the fine.
If there is no satisfactory outcome, escalate the matter to the Court Manager.
If this does not resolve matters, then it may be necessary to escalate the matter to the HMCTS Area Enforcement Team who, on the whole, are very helpful. Those complaints not resolved at court level are, invariably, resolved at Area Enforcement Team level.
Only very serious complaints warrant escalation to one of the two Regional Enforcement Teams, at Leeds and Southend-on-Sea, respectively, or, ultimately, the Head of HMCTS Criminal Enforcement, at HMCTS headquarters in London.