Fines for misdemeanors will increase in April

If you're caught fishing without a permit or refuse to take a breath-test when you're stopped by the police, you might find yourself in for a shock. The Lower House of parliament has approved changes to the law on misdemeanors which will lead to higher fines for breaking a whole range of by-laws and regulations. In some cases people could face fines of up to 15 000 crowns, or four hundred US dollars. By Alena Skodova.

The changes to the law were submitted to the Lower House by the government. They have now been approved by both houses of parliament and will come into effect on the 1st of April. The fines have increased substantially, as the prevailing opinion is that the present fines are not high enough to prevent people from taking the risk of ignoring by-laws. The changes concern many different aspects of life, ranging from reckless driving to illegal trading.

If a driver parks his car on a place reserved for the vehicle of a person confined to a wheel-chair, the police will have the right to tow his car away and he will pay up to 5,000 crowns. Up to now fines have been a mere 1,000 crowns or thirty US dollars. Also, when a driver is caught on a motorway without a motorway permit stuck to his or her windscreen, he or she will face a hefty fine of 15,000 crowns - that's slightly more than the average monthly salary - instead of the present 5,000. Higher fines will also be imposed for fishing without a proper permit, poaching, or crossing the state border without a valid passport.

Although MPs from all parliamentary parties voted in favour of the amended law, critical voices could be heard as well. They pointed to the fact that a mere extension of the definition of what can be classified as a misdemeanor does not strengthen people's awareness of the law or that collecting fines is in itself expensive. But the government's argument is simple: prices go up so fines should go up as well. And what do people in the street think?

"I definitely agree with the government. If all prices go up, why should fines stay the same? We pay more for goods and for services, so fines must go up as well if they're going to make sense."

"Increased fines will be good in some aspects, for instance there are many reckless drivers and they should be punished more strictly. But I think there might be frequent cases of those who collect the fines abusing their power. All in all, some fines seem to me unnecessarily high, I cannot understand why the government wants to pull more money out of our pockets."