Instant Justice For Crimes Proposed

{mosimage} Serious crimes such as assault and mugging will be punished by instant fines of up to £100 from as early as next year under proposals to keep offenders out of courts, it has been reported . The plans, drawn up by the Home Office, propose an extension of fixed-penalty notices from early 2007, The Times reported.

The penalties would be handed out for offences including assault, threatening behaviour, theft up to the value of £100, obstructing or assaulting a police officer, possession of cannabis and drunkenness, the newspaper said. A spokesman for the Home Office said he could not comment on leaked documents, adding that such proposals had “not gone anywhere near ministers”.

Cindy Barnett, chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, said the proposals made a mockery of the criminal justice system and downgraded the gravity of offences that should go before the courts.

The association had been given until next week to respond to the proposals, she said.

She told the newspaper: “These are crimes that involve victims, and sometimes violence, and some of them are at the top end of what Government research has shown the public regard as serious. They should not be dealt with by penalty notice. What kind of message does this send out?

“Serious offences will end up being sentenced by the police and/or prosecution, and underlying problems such as drug abuse will be missed, because speed is seen as more important than taking people to court through a proper process. Magistrates are unanimous and we have already given the Lord Chancellor the very clear message from every part of England and Wales that the Government has already gone too far with these measures.”

The Government released a wide-ranging set of proposals in July, entitled Delivering Simple, Speedy, Summary Justice, to shake up the way the courts handle cases.

The Home Office said the proposals included rolling out existing conditional cautions in which prosecutors handed out punishments for minor crimes rather than taking the offender to court. Other proposals involve streamlining Crown Court procedures by eliminating unnecessary pre-trial hearings, and allowing youths who commit low-level crime to avoid court if they apologised to their victims.