# Unit fine

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Unit fine

A unit fine system is a judicial sentence in which the amount of the fine depends upon the offender's means.

Distribution

Unit fine systems are common and standard in many jurisdictions across the world, notably in Commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, but also in the United StatesFact|date=April 2007 and Europe.

Europe

In Europe the system has operated since 1921 in Finland. In Finland for example, a unit fine (uf) or "day fine" is described as follows:

"A fine is imposed as unit fines (uf). For instance, 20 uf at 10 euro = 200 euro. The more blameworthy the act, the more unit fines are imposed. The statutory maximum number of unit fines is 120 or, if the fine concerns several offences, 240 euro. The amount of one unit fine depends on the income and assets of the convict. The amount of the unit fine on a wealthy person is more than that of a person of limited means, as the objective is that the penalty should constitute a proportionate intervention into the financial position of the convict regardless of his or her means. If the accused cannot account for his or her income and means, the district court will assess the same.

The amount of a unit fine is based on a person’s net income. The net income is the amount left to the person of his or her monthly income after the subtraction of taxes, compulsory insurance premiums and the unemployment insurance premium. Thereafter, 255 euro is subtracted from the net income. The amount arrived at is divided by 60. In addition, each underage child lowers the amount of the unit fine by 3 euro. Assets of over 85,000 euro increase the amount of the unit fine. The minimum amount of a unit fine is 6 euro.

Example
* A person earns 1,500 euro per month and has assets of less than 85,000 euro.After taxes and other levies he is left with 1,000 euro.
* Subtract 255 euro = 745 euro.
* The amount of the unit fine is 745 euro divided by 60 = 12 euro.
* If he has two children, subtract 2 x 3 euro = 6 euro.
* The amount of the unit fine is 6 euro.
* If he has been sentenced to 20 day fines for the offence, the total amount of the fine is 20 uf at 6 euro = 120 euro."

The system is also applied in Germany, Austria, Hungary, France, Portugal, Switzerland and Poland, and all of Scandinavia.

British Isles

In the British Isles, England and Wales experimented with the system and decided not to pursue it, while Ireland decided not to introduce it, largely because of the English and Welsh experience. The English and Welsh trial in 1992 was deemed not to be a success and after six months the Home Office discontinued it. This appears mainly to have been because of difficulties in assessing the incomes of offenders and due to the opposition of magistrates to the fettering of their freedom to impose the size of penalty they wished. [ [http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2004/03/19042/34209 Summary Justice Review Committee] ]

In the United Kingdom, unit fines applied only to Magistrates' Courts. (Gelsthorpe and Padfield 2003, p.60).

"In determining the amount of the fine in all but a few exceptional cases, the court was required (by the Criminal Justice act 1991) to determine the number of units which was commensurate with the seriousness of the offence or offences concerned, and then calculate the value of the unit in the case of the defendant."

However,

"Within a short time of its commencement, the sentencing provisions of the 1991 Act began top attract adverse criticism. … the unit fine system attracted extensive media attention as a result of a series of bizarre cases in which enormous fines were imposed for trivial offences."(Gelsthorpe and Padfield 2003, pp61-62

The unit fine system was thus abolished as part of the "Criminal Justice Act" (1993).

Under the 1991 "Criminal Justice Act", fines were imposed according to a mathematical formula.
* The seriousness of the offence was measured on a unit scale of one to 50.
* A magistrate assessed the defendant's disposable income on a scale of £4 to a maximum of £100 a week.
* The number of units was then multiplied by the disposable income to decide the fine amount, making the maximum possible total £5,000.

The scheme was criticised for giving paltry fines to the poor and disproportionately large fines to the moderately wealthy. For example
* two men convicted over a street fight paid £640 and £64 respectively, based on their respective incomes.
* magistrates fined a man £1,200 for dropping litter after they assessed him as meeting the top income rate because he had failed to attend court or supply his financial details. The fine was later reduced to £48 on appeal.

Eventually, on 13 May 1993, Mr Clarke announced he would use the "Criminal Justice Bill" then going through Parliament to end the fine system. He told the Commons: "I am quite satisfied that courts should continue to have regard to the particular circumstances of individual offenders - in particular, to their means to pay - when fixing the level of a fine".

He said the scheme would be replaced with "provisions which will require magistrates fully to consider an offender's means when imposing a fine", but would not require them to apply any mathematical formula.

Then opposition MP Tony Blair welcomed the statement on the "shambles" of the "Criminal Justice Act" 1991.

He said: "Never have we seen so quick a collapse of government policy, even for the present government."

"In dealing with the worst abuses of the act, the home secretary will have much support."
* [http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/ria-manage-offenders-bill-060105/ria-offenders-day-fine-060105?view=Binary English legislation states that] " ‘Day fines’ will be introduced through primary legislation, which will require the courts to apply the measure. Secondary legislation will provide the court with rules on calculating the value of “income units”, based on the offender’s disposable income. Existing enforcement measures for fines, for which the Department for Constitutional Affairs has responsibility, will apply to ‘day fines’."

Notes

* [http://www.oikeus.fi/16071.htm The Unit fine system in Finland]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4173913.stm "Labour's plans for means-related fines] echo the unit fines brought in - and abandoned - by former Conservative Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke (BBC report)
* [http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2004/03/19042/34209 Consideration of day or unit fines] in Scotland::"32.50 The Committee has given consideration to the introduction of a day or unit fines system in Scotland. Such systems closely match the size of a fine to the ability of the offender to pay, such that a wealthy person will pay more, sometimes very much more, than someone on a limited income for the same offence. This has the effect of the punishment weighing proportionately as heavily on all offenders, thereby achieving greater fairness and equality, openness and public acceptability into the sentencing process. Unit fine systems are common and standard in many jurisdictions across the world, notably in Commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, but also in the United States and Europe. In Europe the system has operated since 1921 in Finland but is also applied in Germany, Austria, Hungary, France, Portugal, Switzerland and Poland, and all of Scandinavia. In the British Isles, England and Wales experimented with the system and decided not to pursue it, while Ireland decided not to introduce it, largely because of the English and Welsh experience. The English and Welsh trial in 1992 was deemed not to be a success and after six months the Home Office discontinued it. This appears mainly to have been because of difficulties in assessing the incomes of offenders and due to the opposition of magistrates to the fettering of their freedom to impose the size of penalty they wished. The Committee considers that it would be unfortunate if the short and inadequate trial in England and Wales, as compared to the extensive and successful use of the system across the world, should lead to the refusal to examine the relevance of the approach for Scotland. Thus, whilst acknowledging that there are serious practical issues to be considered in the operation of a unit fines system, the Committee recommends that a thorough examination of the system should be undertaken in the context of the revised approach to summary justice in Scotland proposed by the Committee."

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