Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, there is one instrument for the Committee’s consideration today. The Armed Forces (Remission of Fines) Order 2013 is required because, having introduced arrangements to set a term of imprisonment as a means of ensuring that fines are paid, we must also be able to reduce that term in proportion to any reduction of the financial penalty at a later date. This order does that, reflecting the position of the criminal courts.
Fines are meaningless unless there is a mechanism to ensure they are paid. The risk of imprisonment will help to deter those who otherwise might default on their fines, but for those who fail to pay their due, it is only fair and reasonable for them to expect any consequential terms of imprisonment to be proportionate to their fine. To put this into the service context, the alternative period of imprisonment comes into play only when a financial penalty enforcement order is made.
The services have mechanisms in place to recover fines from serving personnel through deductions from their pay. Financial penalty enforcement orders are the mechanism to recover fines from those who have left their service. Financial penalty enforcement orders apply to a person who is neither subject to service law nor a civilian subject to service discipline, but they also apply to certain personnel who are subject to service law as a special member of a reserve force.
Financial penalty enforcement orders may be made by the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency when such persons have failed to pay all or some of a financial penalty that has been awarded against them. The financial penalty enforcement order may be registered with the relevant court—in England and Wales a magistrates’ court—to be enforced, and in due course, if the fine continues to remain unpaid, the person may be imprisoned for a time in proportion to the fine outstanding.
By way of background, the Crown Court in England and Wales must fix a term of imprisonment to be served in default of any fine imposed on a defendant aged 18 or over. This is necessary and right to enable fines to be enforced. Separately, the civilian courts also have the power to reduce or remit entirely a fine following a review of the offender’s financial circumstances. Where the court does so, and a default term of imprisonment has been fixed, the court must proportionately reduce that default term of imprisonment.
I turn to the service courts. The court martial already has a similar power to reduce or remit a fine, but it has not, until now, been required to set a default term of imprisonment when fining a defendant. The Armed Forces Act 2011 inserts new Sections 269A and 269B into the 2006 Act. The first of these new sections requires the court martial, when it imposes a fine on a person aged 18 or over, to specify a term of imprisonment to be served if the fine is not paid and an enforcement order is made. Similarly, the second new section enables the court martial, when making a service compensation order against a person aged 18 or over, to specify the maximum term of imprisonment which may be imposed if the compensation is not paid.
These new provisions, which have come into force, are modelled on those in the equivalent civilian legislation. This order completes the necessary legislative framework for the services in dealing with financial penalties.
I thank the Minister for his explanation of the need for this order and the objective that it is intended to achieve. I take it from the documentation that we have received and from what he has said that it is only a court martial that is now required under the new Section 269A to fix the term of imprisonment if the fine that it is imposing is not paid, that this does not apply if the fine is being imposed after a hearing before a commanding officer and that, consequently, only cases originally heard by a court martial will be covered by the terms of this order in respect of the term of imprisonment being proportionately reduced if the fine is subsequently remitted in whole or part.
I also understand that the reference in paragraph 8.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum to financial penalty enforcement orders being enforced in “prescribed civilian courts” applies in cases where the offender has left the Armed Forces or is no longer a civilian subject to service discipline and, if the fine was not paid by an offender still in the Armed Forces or by a civilian still subject to service discipline, enforcement would be a matter to be dealt with in the service discipline procedures and arrangements.
Finally, was the discrepancy between the requirements on the service courts and civilian courts in respect of a proportionate reduction in the term of imprisonment one that we well spotted, or did it come to light as a result of an actual case?
We have no objections to this order or to its objective of bringing the service provisions in this specific area in line with the equivalent civilian provisions.
My Lords, I am grateful for the support that the noble Lord has given to the order, which brings the Armed Forces Act 2006 into line with equivalent civilian provisions.
The noble Lord asked me three questions. The first was whether this measure applies only to the court martial and not to the summary hearing. The answer is yes, only a court martial is required. His third question was on whether the discrepancy was well spotted; the answer is, yes, it was not an actual case. As for his question about paragraph 8.1 and whether it would apply to an offender who had left the Armed Forces, the noble Lord was correct in his assumption on that. I hope that that clarifies those questions. If I may, I shall study what the noble Lord said and write if I have missed anything to add to our exchanges.