How are Magistrate’s Fines Set in Northern Ireland

The magistrate’s court in Northern Ireland administers criminal offences that concern TV licence, parking and traffic misdemeanours or criminal offences regarding rebellious acts.

Fines are mostly the punishments bestowed by the magistrates’ court. This is being considered as priority debt due to the severe consequences that can happen when not paying it. Magistrates’ court also imposes liability orders if you do not comply with rates and child support. However, the process is different from the criminal justice proceedings.

How are the Fines Set?

If you are determined guilty of the criminal offence your punishment is likely in the form of a fine. The amount varies depending on the offence you’ve committed and your circumstances. This means the court has the authority to decide whether to lower the fine or increase it below or above its average.

How are the fines collected?

You’ll get a notice informing you of the fine and the amount that you need to pay. It also contains information on when you have to pay it and where to send the payment.

The court may order you to pay the fine in full within a fixed date, immediately, or through instalments.

What if I can’t afford court fine?

If you can’t cope up paying for the fine you can ask for some time to settle it, ask to pay it through instalments or request to reduce the find at an affordable rate that you can pay.

Apart from that, you can ask to extend the payment term at any period as long as the fine is current. Your request should be made before missing payments; otherwise, further action can be done against you.

If you want to make a request, you can complete the form for an Application for Extension of Time to Pay. This is available on the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Services website. You can also request personally during your initial court hearing.

If you’ve payments, you must attend a fine default hearing. This can allow you to make a request too. Once the court determines that you can’t afford the payment for your fine, the court can decide to reduce it. The request for payment extension also works the same way.

It is important that you present pieces of evidence to the court concerning the sources of your income and your current financial circumstances. If you’re having a hard time working on this, call us or use our online advice tool.

What happens if I miss payments to a fine?

If you miss a fine payment, the court will set a fine default hearing. This allows you to pay the fine directly and in whole, or justify why you can’t bear to pay it.

The court has several authorities to impose the fine. These include:

  • taking out money from your wages or benefits through an attachment of earnings or deduction from benefits
  • the fine will be registered on your credit file and remains visible for up to five years through a registration of the fine. This can make it difficult for you to obtain credit in the future
  • warrant of committal that may lead to imprisonment. However, the risk of being sent to prison is minimal since you’ll be given enough time to settle the fine

Can I be imprisoned if I don’t pay my fine?

If you neglect paying a fine, the magistrates’ court will issue a warrant for imprisonment. The duration of your sentence will depend on the amount that you owe.

If one of the following circumstances occurs, you can be sent to prison due to your fine:

  • deliberately refusing to pay the fine even if you have the capacity to pay
  • neglect to request enough time to pay when the court asked you to apply
  • you do not give a fixed address in Northern Ireland
  • the court determines its appropriate for you

The court will provide a written induction justifying why you’re being sent to prison.

In Northern Ireland, imprisonment for not paying a fine is more prevalent than in other places across the UK, since there are few means to require payment of the fine that is suitable for you.

How Can You Help Me?

We’ll help you create a budget that you can take during your court hearing if you can’t afford to pay your fine.

On the contrary, if you’re currently paying a fine, and struggling to cope up with your other debt payments, contact us. We have debt experts that can best give you advice on how to deal with your current circumstances.