HL Deb 10 May 1984 vol 451 cc1124-6

10.57 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Fines and Penalties (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before the House on 15th March, be approved. Your Lordships will see that this order creates a new structure of five levels of maximum fines for offences triable only summarily, and it provides for a general increase in maximum summary fines, which are presently less than £1,000. It also removes the limit of the fine available on indictment. The order also makes some related changes to other penalties and gives the Secretary of State power, by order, to vary maximum fines in the future in line with changes in the value of money.

This order is designed to bring the structure of fines in Northern Ireland generally into line with that in the rest of the United Kingdom. The order is indeed technical and, with your Lordships' permission, I shall refer to what we regard as the main features.

Article 3 removes any existing limit on the fine that may be imposed where the offence is triable on indictment. Article 4 introduces what we call "the prescribed sum", which is defined as £1,000, as the maximum that may be imposed on summary conviction of an offence that may also be tried on indictment.

Article 5 introduces a standard scale of fines for purely summary offences consisting of five levels; namely, £25, £50, £200, £500 and £1,000. Article 5 also converts fines expressed in monetary terms to the appropriate level on what we call the standard scale. Daily and other periodic fines are, of course, excluded.

Article 6 contains the main feature of the order by providing for a general increase of fines below £1.000 for purely summary offences and in general increases them to the level on the standard scale next above the amount of the existing fine. As so often hapens, there are special cases and indeed exceptions, and these are referred to in Article 7, and also we find them in Schedules 2, 3 and 4. In brief, fines which are recently set are unaffected, while some are increased by more than the general level.

Article 8 is similar to Article 6 but it covers fines under subordinate legislation, while Articles 9 and 10 abolish enhanced penalties on subsequent conviction of purely summary offences. Articles 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 make consequential amendments to certain fines and other sums in order to assimilate them into the new fines structure. I turn to Article 17. This gives power to the Secretary of State to alter maxima by order to reflect changes in the value of money. This will allow Northern Ireland fines to be increased later this year in line with the recent changes made in Great Britain.

Finally may I mention Schedule 1. This makes some changes to penalties under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in line with those made earlier for Great Britain. This order before us this evening lays the basis for a more cohesive and rational structure of the level of fines in Northern Ireland similar to that applying to the rest of the United Kingdom. It is not necessary for me to emphasise to your Lordships the importance of the fine as a penalty, and it is essential to ensure, as we hope this order does, that the maxima for individual offences are not so undermined by inflation that they are rendered any less effective. It is in this spirit that I would commend the order to your Lordships.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th March be approved.—(Lord Lyell.)

11.3 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, again the noble Lord the Minister has given a full explanation of the order before the House. It has again a single theme, fines, but it has required 19 paragraphs and 7 schedules to cover the ground. We agree with the Minister that the fine is an important penalty. It is imposed, I believe, on about half the offenders sentenced for indictable offences in the magistrates' courts and it is imposed on the great majority of those sentenced for summary offences. Therefore, as the noble Lord has said, the fine should not be undermined by inflation so that it becomes no more than a token payment.

The Minister has explained that the order increases the maximum penalty and introduces—I would not say creates—in Northern Ireland the principle of the five-level scale of fines already available in England, Wales, and Scotland, and indeed reproduces the very scales specified in the Criminal Justice Act 1982. Again it abolishes the enhanced penalties. In other words, most of the major provisions of this order follow the corresponding clauses embodied in Part IV of the Criminal Justice Act 1982.

This leads me to ask merely this question: why were these provisions not contained in a special Part of the 1982 Act? Why, in a sense, do we have to start afresh but without the opportunity to move amendments? Not that I necessarily have amendments to move. But perhaps I may ask the Minister this other question. When the order is implemented, will the fine structure applying in Northern Ireland correspond essentially to the fine structure in England and Wales, or will there still be substantial differences?

There is nothing else that I can add except, on behalf of our Benches, to welcome the order.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, we are very grateful for the noble Lord's reception of this brief order. He is correct that this order follows from many of the measures and many of the contents of the Criminal Justice Act 1982.

Various changes have been made since the proposal was published and the noble Lord was wondering why there was a delay following the England and Wales Order 1982. The noble Lord, with his knowledge, would agree that the task of standardising fines was begun in 1977 with the Criminal Law Act 1977. Among other things that increased fines, which, as the noble Lord suggested and we agree, is an effective weapon—we hope that his point is taken—in criminal justice, but it increased fines for some offences at the lower end of the criminal scale in pre-1949 Acts.

It also introduced the £1,000 prescribed sum for offences tried summarily, but which were also triable on indictment. Consideration was given at that time during the preparation of the 1977 legislation to introducing similar provisions for Northern Ireland. I assure the noble Lord and your Lordships that much preparatory work was completed, but it became apparent that further changes were being considered for Great Britain, so action to follow the 1977 Act as far as Northern Ireland was concerned was halted then.

The further changes for Great Britain appeared for the Criminal Justice Bill 1982 and we have started the work which we were doing up to 1977. We hope we have brought it up to date and we hope that we have been able to incorporate measures similar to the 1977 measures and all the measures which have been contained in the Criminal Justice Act 1982 in this order.

I hope the noble Lord will accept that there was some catching up to be carried out for Northern Ireland and that is one of the reasons why we have had some delay in bringing this order before your Lordships—it is not quite two years behind the Criminal Justice Act 1982.

I understand that the fine structure—if your Lordships and the other place accept the order, and it should be implemented—will correspond to the fine structure in England and Wales. There are some exceptions. I noticed that there was one exception over alkali. My little non-legal mind took me into this point concerning periodic fines, but that is a minor point and I understand that that is liable to be repealed and to fall in line later this year. I understand that the fine structure as a result of this order will bring Northern Ireland into line with England and Wales.

I hope that that has satisfied, in the major part, the queries which have been raised by the noble Lord. With that, I hope that he and your Lordships will forgive me if I beg to move.

House adjourned at ten minutes past eleven o'clock.