There has been a lively debate on private parking charges on a mailing list I am on. I won't go in to the debate in detail (phew!), but it is clear people have different views at a moral level on some things.
I am keen to learn how things should work, and do work, and have actually purchased and started reading a book on tort law. Interesting stuff. It does however surprise me how much things can be down to policy rather than a clear long standing idea of right and wrong. It is also interesting how much things have changed over the last few decades even. What is right clearly changes over time. That does make some sense, but gives rise to disputes where both sides are absolutely sure they are right.
The one policy thing which makes a lot of sense to be is that fines belong to criminal law, not civil. A fine is a financial charge that is there to punish and deter. It is not there to compensate for damages or losses.
You can be fined for something criminal even when there is no damage caused by your action and no risk of damage (e.g. speeding on a clear motorway on a dry sunny morning in a new car). The fine is not there to compensate for damages it is to punish and deter.
What seems odd to me is that people think there is any place for fines in civil disputes. The idea of me fining you for something you have done wrong to me. That really does not work. It creates all sorts of incentives that are not good for society. I mean, if it is a fine, what is to stop me fining you £250 for walking on my driveway? You may think that is silly and unreasonable but it is the same as some parking fines which are the same basic civil wrong (trespass). Basically, any fine is unreasonable. A charge for damages, yes, but not a fine.
Fines are for the courts...
I'll read more of the book though :-)
P.S. I can debate commercial late payment penalty charges another day. Truth is they raise less money than the cost of pursuing late payments and people going bust owning money that they would not have, and so are not a fine or penalty but a pre-estimate of damages for a breach of contract helpfully set in law to minimise the work for everyone. They are probably too low.