Government plans that would mean shoplifters and other ‘petty’ criminals who plead guilty would no longer have to go to court have been labelled as too lenient by retailers.

The reforms would mean prosecutors and police could decide the action to take after offences such as shoplifting or criminal damage, using punishments such as fixed-penalty notices.

The proposals have been drawn up by the Lord Chancellor and are being considered by government. They follow prime minister Tony Blair’s ‘Respect’ agenda, which recommended increasing on-the-spot fines for shoplifting and criminal damage from £80 to £100.

But some retailers are worried that certain crimes would be seen as less serious and that offenders would commit further crimes to pay off fines.

Bharat Amin, who runs Seaside News in Brighton, said: “If someone commits a crime against me it should be handled through the courts. I can’t see that it will speed up the process and people will just go out and steal again to pay off the fine.”

Association of Convenience Stores public affairs manager James Lowman believes it is important crimes such as shop lifting or vandalism continue to be viewed as serious crimes with appropriate punishments. “A lot of retailers are concerned shop theft may be downgraded as an offence and no longer seen as a proper crime,” he said.