John Thornhill, chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, said officers were taking the easy option and handing out notices rather than taking matters further.
The Magistrates’ Association cited an example of a thief who was given 12 separate fixed penalties for shoplifting rather than being taken to court.
“There is inconsistency of their use and inappropriate use,” said Thornhill. “Evidence we have suggests that on many occasions police go for on-the-spot fines because it’s done there and then.”
Justice Secretary Jack Straw recently limited on-the-spot fines for shoplifting to first-time offences, but the lack of database to keep track of offenders was criticised by opposition MPs.
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman added: “We believe the new guidance will prevent the majority of inappropriate ticketing.”