Belfast Telegraph

2,000 jailed for fines non-payment

More than 2,000 people went to prison in Northern Ireland last year for not paying fines, it has been revealed.

Substantial change is still required on enforcement after the increase, Criminal Justice Inspection said.

It called for measures to minimise the inappropriate and expensive use of police and prison in dealing with people who default on court orders.

Acting chief inspector Brendan McGuigan said: "There have not been the substantive changes required to the enforcement process, nor has there been a stricter regime introduced to minimise compliance and minimise police enforcement and the use of imprisonment.

"This places tremendous pressures on the prison service at a time when it is undergoing a significant change programme."

The follow-up review said the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service had made a significant reduction in the number of warrants issued to police. Despite this, the number issued to officers, the volume of outstanding warrants and the number of fine defaulters being committed to prison remained significant.

The number of new imprisonments rose to 2,179 last year from 1,247 in 2009.

Mr McGuigan added that of 10 recommendations made on the issue in an original report on enforcement of fines three had been achieved, five partially achieved and two not achieved.

"Work needs to be urgently taken forward to introduce the stricter regime, as envisaged in the original inspection report, which will produce a system of enforcement which addresses the current issues of public confidence in the justice system, the social and financial cost of short-term sentences for fine defaulters and the operational impact on the NICTS, the PSNI and the Northern Ireland Prisons," he said.

Justice Minister David Ford accepted more needed to be done. "It is because of this complexity that the justice system must develop a new approach to deal with fine defaulters rather than the old practice of sending people to prison for a few days at a time," he said.

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