The recent news that Ant McPartlin has been fined £86,000 for a drink driving offence has prompted many questions about how court-imposed fines are calculated.
Why was he fined this seemingly arbitrary amount, and does it mean that a non-celebrity could be landed with such a hefty financial penalty?
HOW FINES ARE CALCULATED
Magistrates’ courts (including the one in which McPartlin was sentenced) have to follow sentencing guidelines when sentencing, unless there is a good reason to depart from them.
Those guidelines set out how long a jail sentence should be, and also how much a defendant should be fined. They also set out the appropriate community order. The magistrates are given a range, and can move up or down within that range at their own discretion.
For drink driving offences, fines are generally calculated as a percentage of a defendant’s weekly income – the fine could be as low as 50%, or as high as 150%. The magistrates also take into account both the aggravating and mitigating facts about the case.
In McPartlin’s case, it was decided that he should be fined 100% of his weekly disposable income of £130,000, less one third. The reduction was due to the court having given McPartlin credit for his early guilty plea.
THE CELEBRITY FACTOR
The question of whether McPartlin’s status as a household name is likely to have affected his sentencing is less clear-cut.
It is a legitimate aim of sentencing to try to put others off offending. So in a high-profile case such as this, which is likely to receive a lot of press attention, the court often uses sentencing as a way to make an example of the defendant.
In McPartlin’s case, it is likely that his celebrity status was a factor in deciding the severity of the penalty to be imposed.
However, the real penalty for many celebrities in cases such as these is the long-term effect of negative press coverage. A conviction casts doubt on their character, thereby potentially affecting their career (and income) well into the future.
For McPartlin, who has appeared contrite throughout the proceedings, there seems to also be a sense of personal loss. As the district judge noted in summing up the case: “I think it will have quite an impact on you to know you’re no longer a man of good character.”