1. Approach to the assessment of fines - introduction

Guideline users should be aware that the Equal Treatment Bench Book covers important aspects of fair treatment and disparity of outcomes for different groups in the criminal justice system. It provides guidance which sentencers are encouraged to take into account wherever applicable, to ensure that there is fairness for all involved in court proceedings.

The amount of a fine must reflect the seriousness of the offence (Sentencing Code, s.125(1)).

The court must also take into account the financial circumstances of the offender; this applies whether it has the effect of increasing or reducing the fine (Sentencing Code, s.125(2) and (3)).

The aim is for the fine to have an equal impact on offenders with different financial circumstances; it should be a hardship but should not force the offender below a reasonable ‘subsistence’ level. Normally a fine should be of an amount that is capable of being paid within 12 months though there may be exceptions to this.

The guidance in this section aims to establish a clear, consistent and principled approach to the assessment of fines that will apply fairly in the majority of cases. However, it is impossible to anticipate every situation that may be encountered and in each case the court will need to exercise its judgement to ensure that the fine properly reflects the seriousness of the offence and takes into account the financial circumstances of the offender.