A fourfold increase in the maximum fines available to magistrates is to be introduced – meaning motorway speeders could be forced to pay up to £10,000, and disorderly drunks £4,000, the Government said.
Courts will also be able to levy unlimited fines for the first time for the most serious crimes dealt with in the lower courts – such as environmental offences – which at present attract penalties of up to £5,000 or more.
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said the dramatic hike – the first since 1991 and which the Government paved the way for in legislation passed two years ago – would give magistrates the “greater powers” needed to punish offenders.
But motoring groups said the new fines were disproportionate and could put people off challenging unfair speeding tickets.
Magistrates’ Court Guidelines set out how the appropriate level of punishment should be determined according to the seriousness of the offence.
Under the proposed changes the maximums in each category will increase from:
:: Level 1 – £200 to £800. Includes unauthorised cycle racing on public ways.
:: Level 2 – £500 to £2,000. Includes driving a motor cycle without a protective helmet.
:: Level 3 – £1,000 to £4,000. Includes the sale of alcohol to a drunk person or being drunk and disorderly in a public place.
:: Level 4 – £2,500 to £10,000. Includes speeding on the motorway.
Mr Wright said: “Financial penalties set at the right level can be an effective way of punishing criminals and deterring them from further offending.
“Magistrates are the cornerstone of our justice system and these changes will provide them with greater powers to deal with the day-to-day offences that impact their local communities.”
The amount of fines collected reached an all-time high of £284 million at the end of 2012/13 and remains on an upward course.
Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association, criticised the changes.
“For the vast majority of drivers the prospect of the existing £2,500 fine is a pretty good deterrent against excessive speeding on the motorway,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“We would not condone excessive speeding in any way but fines have to be proportionate to the offence and one has to question whether increasing the fines four-fold is proportionate, and it probably is not.
“If we had more cops in cars on the motorway that would be a much more effective deterrent.”
Rupert Lipton, director of the National Motorists Action Group, said it was ” disproportionate and draconian”.
“I think it will have a serious chilling effect. We will find motorists will be deterred from going to court where they don’t believe they are guilty of an offence and there is a potential challenge,” he told the newspaper,
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 allowed for magistrates to be give the power to impose unlimited fines for some offences but the Government is only now tabling legislation to put that into effect.