Fixed penalty notice

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Fixed penalty notices (FPNs) were introduced in Britain in the 1950s to deal with minor parking offences. Originally used by police and traffic wardens, their use has extended to other public officials and authorities, as has the range of offences for which they can be used.

In recent years, this has taken the form of using them to give police and public authorities in England, Scotland and Wales a realistic weapon against anti-social behaviour. They are designed to reduce paperwork on police and council officers by allowing low-level anti-social behaviour to be dealt with on the spot. Newer types of notice exist for disorder, environmental crime, truancy and noise. A fixed penalty notice is not a fine[1] or criminal conviction and the recipient can opt for the matter to be dealt with in court instead of paying. However, if the recipient neither pays the penalty nor opts for a court hearing in the time specified, the penalty may be increased by 50% and registered against the recipient as a fine.[2] It may then be enforced by the normal methods used to enforce unpaid fines, including imprisonment in some circumstances.

In Hong Kong, fixed penalty notices are issued for minor offences such as smoking, littering, parking, idling engine, etc.[3]

Penalty notices for parking and motoring offences[edit]

This was the original use for FPNs, currently continuing in Great Britain under powers provided by the Road Traffic Act 1991 as well as in Northern Ireland; in many areas this style of enforcement has been taken over from police by local authorities. Some other motoring offences (other than parking) can also be dealt with by the issue of FPNs by police, VOSA or local authority personnel. FPNs issued by local authority parking attendants are backed with powers to obtain payment by civil action and are defined as "penalty charge notices", distinguishing them from other FPNs which are often backed with a power of criminal prosecution if the penalty is not paid; in the latter case the "fixed penalty" is sometimes designated as a "mitigated penalty" to indicate the avoidance of being prosecuted which it provides.

If a charge is paid within 14 days of the 28-day period, the charge is decreased by 50%. Appealing against or contesting this notice, requires going through courts and hearings: if lost, the 50% period pay could be extended.

Penalty notices for disorder[edit]

Issued under Section 1–11 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001[4] for public disorder offences and divided into "lower-tier" and "higher-tier" offences each with its own penalty amount, a penalty notice for disorder (PND) can only be issued to people aged 18 or over. There are 26 offences for which a notice can be issued, such as being drunk and disorderly in a public place, selling alcohol to a minor (under 18), threatening behaviour or language and "behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to others". Penalty notices can also be issued for minor shop thefts and minor criminal damage and in January 2009 the offence of possession of cannabis was added to the scheme. Recipients have 21 days to pay the notice or request a court hearing. If a penalty notice is not paid after 21 days then the outstanding amount is increased by 50% and if it is still unpaid the fine is lodged at the local magistrates' court just as if the matter was an unpaid court fine. This is where PNDs and FPNs vary if they are not paid: the former results in an unpaid fine being lodged and the latter results in the recipient being summoned to court to answer for the original offence.

When paying penalty notices for disorder, no admission of guilt is required. Paying the PND involves neither an official finding nor an acceptance of guilt and discharges all liability to conviction for the offence. PNDs for recordable offences are recorded on the Police National Computer however and may be disclosed on an Enhanced Criminal Records Disclosure issued by the Criminal Records Bureau, if it is concluded that the behaviour leading to the PND was relevant to the matter at hand, for example the applicant’s suitability to work with children. However, the mere fact that a PND has been issued would not make it relevant.

PNDs are generally issued to first-time offenders with no previous record. PNDs do not constitute a criminal record; they are non-conviction information and treated as intelligence.

Juvenile PND trials[edit]

In some areas there was a pilot scheme[when?] that allowed penalty notices to be issued to 10- to 15-year-olds – the parent or guardian was liable for the penalty and the tariff would be reduced, £40 for the higher-tier offences and £30 for the lower-tier offences.

The police forces that piloted Juvenile PNDs were:

  • British Transport Police (Birmingham Division)
  • Essex
  • Lancashire
  • Merseyside
  • Metropolitan Police (Kingston Division)
  • Nottinghamshire
  • West Midlands

Penalty notice for environmental crime[edit]

Fixed penalty notices are available as a means for dealing with various environmental crimes. The first was introduced in 1990 for leaving litter, and since then numerous others have followed, particularly as a result of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, and the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005.

The majority of these are issued by local authority officers, but police and Environment Agency officers have been authorised to issue some. The penalty ranges[when?] from £20 for unnecessary idling of a stationary vehicle engine to £500 for failing to comply with a noise warning notice in licensed premises.[citation needed]

By far the majority of fixed penalty notices issued for environmental crimes are for leaving litter, failing to remove dog faeces, and fly posting. The Government has determined that fly tipping is too serious to warrant a fixed penalty, and that cases should be referred to a magistrates' court.[citation needed]

Minor criminal damage such as graffiti may also be dealt with by issuing a fixed penalty notice.[5]

Penalty notice for truancy[edit]

Section 23 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 allows local authorities, head teachers (or their deputies) and the police to issue a £50 or £100 fixed penalty notice to a parent or parents who fail to ensure that their child regularly attends school.

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 came into force on 4 September 2007. Under this, parents of children excluded from school are required to keep them under supervision for the first five days of their exclusion. If the child is found in a public place without their parent during this time, the parent can be issued a £50 penalty notice, which rises to £100 if not paid in 28 days.

Penalty notice for night noise[edit]

Section 2 of the Noise Act 1996[6] allows local authorities to investigate complaints from residents about excessive noise coming from a residential dwelling during the night, defined as between the hours of 11pm and 7am.

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