Eric Pickles warns councils against using residents as “cash cows” by doling out penalties for petty offences after a sixteen-fold increase in such fines.
The Communities Minister spoke out after a pressure group said fixed penalty notices issued by police, local authorities and schools has risen to 226,640 in 2011/12 from 13,926 in 2001/02.
The Manifesto Club report said 1.65 million on-the-spot fines have been issued since 2004 for incidents ranging from theft to putting up lost-cat posters.
Some 9,522 penalty notices have been issued since 2004 for public drinking, 414,691 for causing harassment, alarm or distress – which includes swearing. A total of 1,122 fines were imposed for unlicensed leafleting.
This is lazy at best and profiteering at worst. Manifesto Club
Josie Appleton, who wrote the report and oversees the Manifesto Club’s campaigns, said: “Too often, public authorities’ answer to every problem is simply to dole out fines. This is lazy at best and profiteering at worst.
“On-the-spot fines have their place for procedural violations such as parking, but this unprecedented expansion to criminal justice and the public services is a recipe for injustice and corruption.
“The vast majority of these 200,000 incidents would be better dealt with in some other way, whether that is through a court trial or a telling-off.”
Local councils should not be using residents as cash cows and persecuting people for petty or insignificant breaches of municipal rules. Eric Pickles
The report says fines have extended punishment into new areas of “minor misdemeanour or perfectly innocent behaviour” as well as being used to tackle social problems such as truancy and street drinking.
The Manifesto Club, which campaigns against what it terms “the hyperregulation of everyday life”, says that large annual variations in the numbers of penalty notices for disorder issued since 2004 can be explained by authorities trying to hit targets, rather than changes in criminal behaviour.
Mr Pickles said: “Local councils should not be using residents as cash cows and persecuting people for petty or insignificant breaches of municipal rules.”
Richard Monkhouse, deputy chair of the Magistrates’ Association, said his organisation had “argued for some time against the inappropriate use of penalty notices and cautions for serious offences, which should be dealt with inside a courtroom”.
He added: “This report highlights that a similar problem seems to exist where relatively trivial offences are concerned.
“Justice should be seen to be delivered fairly, openly and transparently, no matter what the offence and in such a way as to dispel any thought that it is being motivated by revenue considerations.”