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£20m of driving and court fines not paid in Northern Ireland

By Staff Reporter

The backlog of unpaid fines in Northern Ireland is now almost double the level of penalties issued just this year, according to a damning report from Northern Ireland's official auditor.

A total of almost £20m worth of fines and penalties have not been paid in Northern Ireland.

In a report to the Assembly, Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly described it as "exceptionally high".

The figures highlight how non-payment of fines remains a major problem two years after Stormont's spending watchdog called for an urgent review of the situation.

The unpaid fines include the financial penalties imposed by the Courts, PSNI and Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA).

Mr Donnelly said: "At £19.8m, the level of outstanding fines is exceptionally high when viewed against the fines issued in 2015-16 of £11.4m.

"The amount of outstanding fines is reduced in the accounts by £10.9m (55%) that is judged to be irrecoverable."

He said it "is the highest amount of bad debt recorded" since the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) began publishing the figures in 2011.

Currently, the PSNI collects unpaid fines.

A civilianised fine collection and enforcement service should be operational by the end of 2016-17.

But Mr Donnelly said that delays in implementing new measures "undermine the credibility of the justice system in using fines as a means to deter crime".

He added: "It is important that the new fine collection and enforcement service is implemented."

Last month the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the highest total is in the Belfast Court Division, where almost £6.4m is owed.

In January 2015 a report by the Assembly's Public Accounts Committee found that £19m was owed in court fines and penalties. Assembly Members heard that £6.5m was unlikely to be recovered.

The report called for urgent reform of how financial penalties were collected.

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