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Magistrates' court fines

A magistrates' court fine can be challenged if the debtor was not aware of it, paid at an affordable rate, or remitted if it is not affordable.

This content applies to England & Wales

Why a court fine is issued

The magistrates' court is a criminal court. It deals with less serious criminal offences.

Fines are the most common criminal sanction imposed by the magistrates' court.

Fines are commonly issued for contraventions such as:

  • speeding

  • theft

  • failure to have a television licence

Most parking penalties are not fines. They are enforced as a civil claim in the County Court.

Amount of the fine

The amount of the fine is set depending on:

  • the severity of the offence

  • whether the defendant pleads guilty

  • the debtor's relevant weekly income

Most types of fines have a maximum amount set by sentencing guidelines or the legislation that governs the offence.

Fines are set at a level from one to five. Level five is an unlimited fine.

Debtors who are not aware a fine has been imposed

Some debtors find out about the fine after proceedings have concluded.

The debtor can inform the court that they were not aware of the fine using a statutory declaration.

A statutory declaration is made under the Criminal Procedure Rules and the Magistrates' Court Act 1980.[1]

How the debtor makes the declaration has a copy of the form to make a statutory declaration to the magistrates' court.

The declaration must be witnessed by a solicitor, district judge, magistrate, or a justice's legal adviser.[2]

There is no fee to make the declaration. The person who witnesses the declaration could charge a small fee.

Time limits

Debtors must make the declaration within 21 days of the first day they became aware of the proceedings.

The debtor can make a late declaration. They must give reasons for the late application. The decision to accept a late declaration is at the discretion of the court officer.  

What happens after the debtor makes the declaration

A successful declaration brings the case back to the plea stage. That means the debtor can tell the court whether they want to plead guilty or not guilty.

A successful declaration stops any enforcement action against the debtor. Enforcement action can resume if the fine is imposed again and the debtor fails to pay or negotiate a payment arrangement.

Set the level of a fine after a re-hearing

Fines are set based on the severity of the offence. The Court has some discretion in setting the fine within these bands. Debtors who submit a guilty plea can have their fine reduced by up to one-third.

A debtor can ask the court to set the fine based on their 'relevant weekly income'. The debtor can provide the court with either:

  • magistrates' court form MC100

  • a financial statement

Relevant weekly income

Debtors who are employed or self-employed and earn more than £120 per week after tax and National Insurance use their actual income as their relevant income.

Debtors whose only income is state benefits or whose net income from employment or self-employment is less than £120 have a relevant income of £120.

People with a defence

A criminal solicitor could advise someone whether they have a defence.

Debtors whose circumstances have changed

The debtor could have had a drop in income or an increase in expenses since the fine was issued.

Power to remit fines

The magistrates' court has the power to remit a fine where a debtor's circumstances have changed since it was imposed.[3]

Costs added to court fines cannot be remitted.[4]

The decision to remit a fine is at the discretion of the court.

How to request a remittance

The debtor requests the remittance by writing to the fines officer at the magistrates' court. The debtor can set out their income and expenses on a financial statement to evidence their change of circumstances.

If the fines officer agrees, they will set a means hearing. Debtors must then submit form MC100 'Statement of assets and other financial circumstances'. The court uses this form to determine whether to remit the fine and at what level.

The debtor could get advice from a solicitor about challenging a court's decision if it refuses to remit a fine.

How the payments are set

The Magistrates' Sentencing Guidelines state that most fines should be set at a level that can be repaid within 12 months, based on the debtor's disposable income.

Where a debtor has disposable income, they should ask for partial remission of the fine based on paying this amount for 12 months.

Debtors with no disposable income can ask for full remission. The court needs evidence that the debtor's financial circumstances are unlikely to change in the next 12 months.

Fine wrongly imposed or set too high

The debtor can apply to court to vary or rescind a fine that has been set at an incorrect level.

There is no time limit for the debtor to make the application, but they should make it as soon as reasonably practicable.[5] Debtors should be prepared to explain the reason for any delays.

How to make the application

The debtor makes the application to vary or rescind the fine by writing to the court officer at the court the fine was issued. The letter must state the grounds for varying or rescinding the fine.

Debtors applying to vary the fine should specify the amount of the payments they propose to make.[6]

The magistrates' court sets a new hearing to make a decision which the debtor must attend.[7]

The debtor could get advice from a solicitor about challenging a court's decision if they refuse to vary or rescind a fine.

Lodging fines against a prison sentence

A debtor serving an active prison sentence can apply to the magistrates' court to lodge the fine against the sentence. This allows the debtor to link the fine to their sentence and has the effect of writing off the fine.

Compensation linked to court fines can also be lodged. This requires the consent of the party to whom the compensation is owed.

Debtors who want to lodge a fine can speak to the prison staff or seek legal advice from a criminal solicitor.

Last updated: 10 August 2023


  • [1]

    r.44.2 Criminal Procedure Rules; s.14 Magistrates' Court Act 1980 for typical court fines, s.16E Magistrates' Court Act 1980 for fines issued under the Single Justice Procedure.

  • [2]

    r.44.2 Criminal Procedure Rules.

  • [3]

    s.85 Magistrates' Court Act 1980.

  • [4]

    s.85(4) Magistrates' Court Act 1980.

  • [5]

    r.28.4(3)(a) Criminal Procedure Rules.

  • [6]

    r.28.4(3)(c)(ii) Criminal Procedure Rules.

  • [7]

    r.28.4(2)(b) Criminal Procedure Rules.