HL Deb 29 February 1988 vol 494 cc1-3

Lord Graham of Edmonton, on behalf of Baroness Phillips, asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which offences are included in the list for fixed penalties now operating in Scotland.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Cameron of Lochbroom)

My Lords, procurators fiscal may offer fixed penalties for those road traffic offences listed in Schedules 1 and 2 to the Transport Act 1982 and also in terms of Section 56 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1987 for any statutory or common law offence, in respect of which an alleged offender could competently be tried before a district court.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving that reply. Can he say anything about the offence of shoplifting in respect of these matters? Can he also tell us how extensive is the consultation process as regards fixed penalties, taking into account the fact that there are distinctions between Scottish and English law? For instance, are the views of magistrates taken into account, because I undertstand that the pressure on the courts could be considerably relieved under the fixed penalty system?

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

My Lords, in response to the second part of the noble Lord's question, such decisions are taken by the procurator fiscal. They will depend on the particular circumstances of the case and whether he considers such a disposal, rather than a prosecution, to be appropriate in the public interest.

Certain cases of theft by shoplifting would fall within the ambit of the 1987 Act. Depending upon the circumstances, they may be considered appropriate for such a disposal rather than for prosecution by a procurator fiscal.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, I should like to ask whether the penalties are fixed without any reference to the income and financial standing of the defendant.

Lord Cameron Lochbroom

My Lords, the noble Lord is in one sense correct. Penalties are fixed by the statute under which they were permitted; namely, by the Act of Parliament. The £25 penalty is one of the matters which a procurator fiscal will take into account in determining whether he considered such a disposal to be appropriate in a particular case.

Lord Morton of Shuna

My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord say whether he has given directions or guidance to procurators fiscal in respect of the circumstances under which a fixed penalty should he offered rather than prosecution?

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

My Lords, I have given certain instructions as regards the circumstances under which the power of an offer of fixed penalty may be used. My concern is to ensure that it will be used correctly. For that reason the present provision is monitored, involving procurators fiscal, clerks of the court and Scottish Office statisticians.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the care that he has taken in answering the Question. However, will he comment on the point that I raised? Prior to the powers being exercised, to what extent do consultations take place with magistrates, courts and their representatives? I understand that the courts are under great pressure and that the fixed penalty system may well be one way of easing the pressure.

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

My Lords, the noble Lord can be certain that procurators fiscal are well aware of the pressures that exist on the courts to get through the business as quickly as possible. The use of the discretion is related to the terms of the individual case. I hope that that will be the ruling matter, rather than the question of the pressure on the courts. I can assure the noble Lord that I am particularly concerned with that.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, as a result of the monitoring to which reference has been made, is it possible to publish the statistics in the various categories for which they are available showing the proportion of cases which have been dealt with by fixed penalties?

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

My Lords, as regards road traffic offences this scheme has been in existence for some time. I believe that 61,000 fixed penalty offers were made in 1987 and that there was a 90 per cent. take-up. Of course noble Lords will be aware that if the offer is not accepted, the matter is taken to court by way of a prosecution.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, can my noble and learned friend tell me whether one consequence of the positive use of discretion is that the offender will escape all publicity?

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

My Lords, one consequence certainly is that no conviction will be recorded against the offender and, at the end of the day, that means that there will be no publicity.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, with regard to shoplifting which was raised previously, are we to understand that a fixed penalty can be imposed and accepted whatever the value of the goods?

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

My Lords, as in any other case it will depend on the circumstances of the particular report. However, I assure my noble friend that the value of the goods would be one of the circumstances of which the procurator fiscal would take account before determining the proper disposal.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord able to say whether the Government have it in mind to legislate along similar lines for England and Wales?

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

My Lords, no, I do not have any such information. I have no doubt that the Government will watch the operation of the scheme in Scotland as a successful means of having an alternative to prosecution which may, at the end of the day, find a response South of the Border as well.

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