Criminal Offences

This checklist sets out the forthcoming changes that will remove or amend the caps on fines that magistrates’ courts can impose for criminal offences.

Criminal liability for businesses

A vast amount of the laws that apply to businesses include criminal offences that are punishable on summary conviction in a magistrates’ court. These offences may apply to:

  • An individual. For example:
    • a company director; or
    • an employee.
  • A company.
  • A partnership.

The offences that may be punishable on summary conviction apply across all business sectors and can be found in:

  • Commercial and trade law.
  • Intellectual property law.
  • Information technology law.
  • Company law.
  • Corruption and financial crime.
  • Competition law.
  • Property law.
  • Health and safety law.
  • Environmental law.

Fines in magistrates’ courts

There are three types of criminal offence:

  • Summary offences. These are tried and sentenced in a magistrates’ court by lay magistrates or occasionally by a specialist magistrate.
  • Indictable offences. These are tried and sentenced in the Crown Court, by both a judge and a jury.
  • Either way offences. These type of offences can be tried either in a magistrates’ court of the Crown Court.

What changes are being made?

Removal of caps on fines of £5,000 and higher amounts

A fine payable on summary conviction that is currently capped at the statutory maximum (£5,000), or capped at a higher amount (for example, £20,000 or £50,000), will become a fine of an unlimited amount in England and Wales.

Power to increase fines below £5,000

Fines currently capped at the standard scale levels 1-4 will continue to be capped but the amounts may increase. In addition, fixed fines of amounts of less than £5,000 may also increase.

When will these changes come into force?

These changes are not yet in force. New legislation is required to bring them into force.

What will these changes mean for businesses?

The changes only apply to fines for criminal offences in the magistrates’ court. They do not apply to:

  • Crown Court fines (which will remain unlimited, unless expressly capped in legislation).
  • Civil fines (fixed or variable) imposed by regulators.

However, the impact on businesses will still be considerable as they apply to such a wide range of laws. Businesses and their directors may have to reconsider their approach to offences which, up until now, may have been treated as relatively minor due to the low level of fines involved.

More information

If you have any queries about the content of this checklist, please contact Philippa Spratley.