Belfast Telegraph

'Archaic' fines system lets offenders evade paying

by david young and chris kilpatrick

A scathing report on the collection of fines in Northern Ireland has described the system as 'archaic' and not fit for purpose.

The findings mean offenders could be thumbing their nose at the system and simply not paying their penalties.

The report by the Auditor General Kieran Donnelly revealed almost £20m of penalties remains outstanding here, with some dating back three decades.

The findings were the result of the first audit office investigation of the system of fine collection by the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service (NICTS).

Mr Donnelly said the huge level of outstanding payments undermined the credibility of using financial penalties to deter crime.

The annual income from fines stands at £13.8m.

Fines included fixed penalty notices, court orders and confiscation orders.

They are imposed by the judiciary, the police and the Driver and Vehicle Agency.

Penalties, which are paid into the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, can be cleared by payment in full or installments, or by serving a prison sentence.

Of the £19.3m outstanding, more than £6m has been effectively written off by the NICTS, with only £12.8m estimated as realistically still collectable.

The remainder will likely not be recovered due to issues such as unwillingness of offenders to pay or weaknesses in the collection system.

Of the £8.4m of total outstanding warrants – involving 26,571 cases – £5.4m has been deemed as not recoverable.

The issue of outstanding warrants is currently in flux in Northern Ireland due to ongoing legal challenges on whether the system is lawful, in particular the processes involved in imprisoning defaulters.

As a consequence, action on all such warrants has effectively been put on hold pending a court judgment.

In his report, Mr Donnelly also raised concerns about missing warrants and the effectiveness of enforcement methods.

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