On 6 March 2015, The Daily Mail ran a story about a man who had been fined £40,000 for speeding – he was driving at 64mph in a 50mph zone. Think that’s a little excessive? Well hold your horses…
What really happened?
Well, to start with, this happened in Finland and the man in question is fairly wealthy.
So, Mr Kuisla was caught speeding, 14 mph over the limit. He was prosecuted and the court imposed a fine. But in Finland, fines are increased by reference to the individual’s wealth. Having examined Mr Kuisla’s tax return, the court discovered that he had earned £4.72m in the previous year. Accordingly, the fine was increased to approximately £40,000.
Is that really fair?
Well the arguments are fairly obvious: A £100 fine to someone who earns £100 per week, is proportionately a significantly heavier penalty than someone who earns £10,000 per week. The converse argument (or one of them in this instance) is that “rich people don’t drive any faster than poor people” (not my words, the words of a DM commenter) – this argument misses the point somewhat. The idea is that the punishment is the same for everyone, and that means treating people differently (in the same way an elderly defendant might get a reduction in a custodial sentence because prison will be harder on him than say a 21 year old).
Why don’t we do this in the UK?
Well, we sort of do. Only on a much smaller scale. Fines imposed in the UK have to have regard to the individual’s means. What that means in practice however, is that people who cannot afford to pay a fine that the court thinks is appropriate will have their fine reduced. It doesn’t really seem to work the other way; one reason for this is that there is a limit on the level of fines that can be imposed by a magistrates’ court (though this will change: see our post on unlimited fines in magistrates courts)
So, rich people do get bigger fines in the UK, but not on the scale of Mr Kuisla.
When thinking about this issue, it is really the super rich we are thinking of; footballers and celebs who speed. Is a £5,000 fine for a footballer earning £300,000 per week really going to act as a deterrent? Unlikely.