§ Lord Gisborough
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether magistrates may award a period of Community Service to a guilty person in lieu of a fine, where the only appropriate fine is above the ability of the person to pay but where the offence itself would not otherwise be so serious as to merit Community Service.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern):
The overriding principle is that the sentence imposed by the court should be commensurate with the seriousness of the offence. This is the effect of the sentencing framework set out in the Criminal Justice Act 1991. A period of Community Service is a more severe sentence than a fine. It represents a substantial loss of leisure time, and involves reparation to the community, and a demanding regular commitment. Section 6 of the 1991 Act provides that a court shall not impose a Community Sentence unless the offence or offences are sufficiently serious to justify such a sentence. At present, therefore, magistrates may not award a period of Community Service to a low income offender in lieu of a fine if Community Service would not otherwise have been an appropriate sentence for the particular offence or offences.