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Fines in the sheriff and justice of the peace courts (Scotland)
This fact sheet covers Scotland. We also have a version for England & Wales if you need it.
Use this fact sheet to:
- find out about the different ways you can be fined;
- understand when enforcement can be used against you; and
- understand how a fine can be enforced.
How might I get a fine to pay?
Fines are the most common penalty used by the Scottish criminal courts. We explain the different ways you might receive a fine below.
A sheriff or justice of the peace court may order you to pay a fine. This could be for a road-traffic offence, for not having a television licence or for another offence such as theft, minor assault or breach of the peace.
There has been an increase in the use of alternatives to prosecution called ‘direct measures’. The various types of direct measure include ‘fiscal fines’, ‘fixed penalties’ and ‘conditional offers’. These are all described in the following sections.
If you have been reported to the procurator fiscal in connection with an alleged offence, you can (in some circumstances) be offered the chance to have the allegation dealt with without a court hearing and without getting a criminal conviction.
If you have been accused of a crime, you may find that, instead of the case going to court for a hearing, you receive a letter offering you the option of paying a fine (and in some cases compensation) at a given instalment rate.
Anti-social behaviour fixed penalty
The police now have the power to offer ‘on the spot’ fixed penalties for low-level, anti-social behaviour. If you do not accept the fixed penalty, the procurator fiscal can bring the case to court for a normal prosecution. If you do nothing within the period allowed for payment, the fine will be registered against you and the original amount will increase by 50%.
Parking penalty charges
You may be given a parking fine by the police or a traffic warden. If you do not pay a parking fine within the period allowed for payment, the fine will be registered against you and the original amount will increase by 50%.
Other motoring fixed penalties
This could be for vehicle offences such as speeding or not having valid insurance. These offences are dealt with by the police and the procurator fiscal ‘conditional offer’ systems. These allow you to pay a fixed penalty for the offence. If you do not pay the fixed penalty within the period allowed, the procurator fiscal can bring the case to court for a normal prosecution.
How do direct measures work?
If you are going to be offered a fiscal fine as a direct measure, the procurator fiscal will write to you offering the option to pay the fine by instalments as an alternative to prosecution. If you receive such a letter, you must decide what you are going to do quickly. You can accept the offer by making a payment, or refuse the offer by letting the clerk of the court know about your decision.
If you do nothing, the court will assume you have accepted the offer and you will be expected to make your first payment within 28 days. This is called ‘deemed acceptance’.
Getting a case reopened
If you have been deemed to have accepted an offer under the direct measures rules, it is sometimes possible to get the case reopened or ‘recalled’. Contact us for advice.
Do I need to get advice from a solicitor if I am made an offer?
Depending on the circumstances of your case, it might be in your best interests to get some legal advice before deciding whether or not to accept the offer.
If you are on a low income you might qualify for ‘criminal legal assistance’. The Scottish Legal Aid Board has a register of solicitors who provide criminal legal assistance. See Useful contacts at the end of the fact sheet.
What can the procurator fiscal offer?
Under the direct measures rules, the procurator fiscal can offer a fiscal fine of between £50 and £300. If compensation is appropriate the maximum offer is £5,000.
A combined offer, of both a fine and compensation, can also be made. If you are offered one of these, you cannot accept one part and not the other part. You need to decide whether or not to accept the whole offer.
A fine is a priority debt
You must treat a fine as a priority debt because the court can take further action against you if you do not pay.
If your fine is for £500 or more, you could be sent to prison if you do not pay. This is quite different from a civil debt (for example, a loan or a credit card debt) for which you cannot be sent to prison.
What is an enforcement order?
An enforcement order sets out the payment terms for your fine or fixed penalty. It explains whether payment must be made in full by a set date or if instalments are allowed.
The court can make an enforcement order in a number of situations. These include:
- if a court sets a fine and has granted time to pay or further time to pay;
- where a person has accepted, or is deemed to have accepted, a fiscal fine and has not made payment; or
- if someone has received a fixed penalty notice for a road traffic offence or antisocial behaviour and has not made payment.
If you attend court, you will either be given a copy of the order whilst in court or this will be sent to you through the post. The court can also make an enforcement order without you being present if:
- you have been offered a fiscal fine, which you have accepted, or have been deemed to have accepted, and you have missed payments;
- you accepted an offer under the direct measures rules and have missed payments; or
- you were fined in England or Wales and a collection order has already been made by an English or Welsh magistrates' court.
If you receive an enforcement order it will tell you:
- how to pay your fine; and
- what will happen if it is not paid.
What if an enforcement order is not made?
In some cases the court will decide that it is not suitable to make an enforcement order. If there is no enforcement order the court may:
- allow more time to pay or change the instalment rate; or
- impose a period of imprisonment or a supervised attendance order (which is a communitybased alternative to prison) if you have missed payments.
What is a fines enforcement officer?
Fines enforcement officers are responsible for giving information and advice about paying fines and for making sure that fines are paid in the way stated in enforcement orders. The sheriff or justice of the peace will normally set the payment rate when you are fined. If you are having difficulty in keeping up with payments, you can ask the fines enforcement officer to alter the rate.
Your fines enforcement officer will ask you to complete a ‘declaration of income’ (DOI) form. This is because they will need to know about your income and spending to take your financial circumstances into account when deciding how you are going to repay.
How will I be asked to repay my fine?
This will depend upon your financial circumstances. You may be asked to:
- pay by weekly, fortnightly or monthly instalments starting on a set date; or
- pay in one lump sum by a set date.
If you pay at the court you can use cash, a postal order, cheque, debit card or credit card. You can also pay by post using a cheque or postal order, or by telephone using a debit or credit card.
New payment methods
New payment methods are being introduced in some parts of the country. These are standing orders, payment cards (so you can pay by cash at special payment points) and online payments. Your fines enforcement officer will know if these new payment methods are accepted by your court.
Reducing what you pay
If you are already paying by instalments but want to reduce them, discuss this with your fines enforcement officer. They may change your payment plan so you can pay smaller amounts over a longer period of time (see above). Details of how to contact your fines enforcement officer are at the end of the fact sheet.
If your fines enforcement officer refuses to change you payment plan, contact us for advice.
What if I don’t pay?
The fines enforcement officer has the power to enforce your fine using a range of methods, these include:
- making deductions from certain benefits;
- arresting your earnings;
- arresting money in your bank account; or
- seizing a vehicle that you own (although they would need a court order to sell it).
See the later section How the fines enforcement officer can enforce your fine for further details of their powers.
What happens if I still don’t pay?
If the fines enforcement officer decides that it is unlikely that you are going to pay your fine, or if they have tried to use the methods listed above and this has failed, they can send your case back to court. This will only be done as a last resort.
If your case is returned to court, the fines enforcement officer will write a report for the court and may even attend. They will tell the court about the payment history for your fine and possibly others you have had in the past as well. The justice of the peace or sheriff will then decide what is to happen next. This could include:
sending you to prison (for fines of £500 or more);
making a supervised attendance order which is a community-based alternative to prison; or
in some cases, remitting (writing off) the fine.
Behind with payments
If you are behind with payments of your fine you may need to act quickly to stop it being enforced by one of the methods listed above. Contact your fines enforcement officer or contact us for advice.
What can I do if the fines enforcement officer has treated me unfairly?
If you are unhappy with a decision by the fines enforcement officer, you can ask for a court review of how your case has been handled. If you think you have been treated unfairly, contact us for advice.
How fines enforcement officers enforce fines
This section explains in more detail about the enforcement methods listed in the earlier section What if I don’t pay?
What is a deduction from benefits order?
The fines enforcement officer can request the court to apply to the Department of Work and Pensions to have deductions taken directly from your benefits to pay your fine. This can be done with or without your consent. These deductions can be made from Income Support, Pension Credit, Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit.
If you are on Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit or Universal Credit, the court can order weekly direct deductions to be taken from your benefit to pay the fine. The deduction rate is £5 per week, but for Universal Credit only the deduction can be up to £25 per week.
If you get contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance, the deduction can be up to £22.50 per week or up to £28.40 per week, depending on your age. Contact us for advice.
You cannot appeal against the decision of the court to make a deduction from benefits order, although you can use the Department of Work and Pension’s internal appeal system to appeal against their decision to make the deductions. Contact us for advice.
What is an earnings arrestment?
An earnings arrestment instructs an employer to deduct money straight from your wages. Your employer has a limited time to put the arrestment into practice. The deductions will be made from your ‘net income’. This means the income you have left after taking away tax and National Insurance. The fines enforcement officer will write to you to confirm that an earnings arrestment is taking place. The letter will invite you to discuss the matter with them.
In some situations, your net income will be the income you have left after any pension contributions have been deducted. For information about how deductions are calculated contact us for advice.
You cannot appeal against the decision of the court to make an earnings arrestment. If you are worried about the effect that an earnings arrestment order may have on your employment, speak to your solicitor if you have one. Otherwise, speak to your fines enforcement officer, or contact us for advice.
What is a bank arrestment?
A bank arrestment will freeze your account. The fines enforcement officer will write to you to tell you about the bank arrestment at the same time as they send the instruction to the bank or building society. If the bank or building society holds an account in your name, your account will be frozen.
The arrestment will only affect money already in your bank or building society account on the day the arrestment is delivered to the bank. If there is not enough money in the account for a bank arrestment, the fines enforcement officer will consider another way to recover the fine.
You can still try to open another account at another bank. We have information about how you can find an instant access bank account. Contact us for advice.
What can be arrested?
There is a limit on what can be arrested in your bank account. At present, a minimum of £529.90 must be left free from arrestment. This amount is known as the ‘protected minimum balance’. Also, certain funds such as benefits and tax credits should not be arrested if they can be clearly identified. Contact us for advice.
Making payments when your account is arrested
When your bank account is arrested, it stops regular payments such as direct debits and standing orders being made. This can mean that any bills you pay by these methods can fall behind. If this happens to you, contact the organisations that are expecting payments from you so that you can make an alternative arrangement to pay them, and contact us for advice.
What if I have a joint account?
If you have a joint account, the bank will usually freeze (‘arrest’) the full amount in it, apart from the protected minimum balance.
What if I have more than one account with the same bank?
If you have more than one account with the same bank, an arrestment will affect all the accounts you have with that bank. However, the protected minimum balance of £529.90 only applies to one of the accounts. This means that some of your accounts may have the full balance arrested. If you are in this situation, contact us for advice.
What is a seizure of vehicle order?
The fines enforcement officer can order that your motor vehicle is clamped. If you cannot pay the fine and costs within 24 hours of the clamping, it will be taken into storage. Once in storage, your vehicle will stay there until either:
- you pay the outstanding balance in full;
- your vehicle is sold; or
- the court recalls the seizure of vehicle order.
Eventually, if you have been unable to pay off the fine and costs, the fines enforcement officer can apply for an order for the sale of the vehicle. If this happens:
- the money from the sale will be paid towards the unpaid fine;
- any extra money will be paid towards the expenses of the seizure of vehicle order; and
- after the fine and expenses have been paid, any remaining money will be paid to you.
If your vehicle has been clamped
Once your vehicle has been clamped, it is too late to offer to pay just the arrears that are outstanding. At this stage, to get your vehicle back you must pay the full outstanding balance of your fine by cash, credit or debit card. Payment by cheque will not be accepted.
Objecting or appealing
You can appeal against the fines enforcement officer’s decision to make a seizure of vehicle order. You will have seven days from the date you are informed that the seizure of vehicle order has been carried out.
If you do not appeal, or make payment, the fines enforcement officer can then apply to the court for an order to sell your vehicle. They must give you seven days’ notice in writing that they are going to apply and, during this period, the application for the order to sell cannot be heard. You can object to the application, but this must be done in writing and within the seven-day period.
If you have objected to the Seizure of Vehicle Order, or the order to sell the vehicle, the justice of the peace or sheriff may set a court hearing to consider your application.
If this happens, it will be very important that you attend, or instruct a solicitor to attend on your behalf. If you don’t, it is very likely that the justice of the peace or sheriff will refuse your application.
Criminal legal assistance
The Scottish Legal Aid Board has a register of solicitors who provide criminal legal assistance. To find out if you qualify for legal aid, or where to find a legal aid solicitor you can phone the Scottish Legal Aid Board Information Line on 0845 122 8686. It is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm. Further details are available from www.slab.org.uk or from the Law Society of Scotland, www.lawscot.org.uk. Alternatively, you can contact your local sheriff or justice of the peace court, who can provide details of local solicitors offering criminal legal assistance.
Fines enforcement officers
Each sheriff court has a fines enforcement team. Details are available on www.scotcourts.gov.uk.