Inebriated revellers will be hit in the pocket when on-the-spot fines for offences like public drunkenness and disorderly behaviour come into force next week.
The new fixed penalty notices for low level offences will give police the power to issue fines of either £40 or £80 to first-time offenders for a range of offences.
That includes an on-the-spot fine for being drunk or urinating in public, along with a stiffer £80 notice for offences including shoplifting, criminal damage or disorderly behaviour.
It is hoped that Justice Minister David Ford’s new plans — which come into force on June 6 — will help free up the courts from dealing with minor offences, often resulting in a small fine.
According to the minister, around 1,500 fewer people could be going through the court system each year.
“Fixed penalty notices are about delivering speedy, effective and proportionate justice responses to a range of low level offences,” he said. “Currently, two-thirds of all crimes prosecuted through our courts result in the offender receiving a fine of £100 or less.”
By accepting on-the-spot fines offenders can avoid a criminal record — but by declining the notice, their case will then be reported to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).
The move to try and free up the courts has been welcomed by members of the Assembly justice committee, including its chair, Paul Givan. The DUP man said police were “very well placed” to exercise discretion.
“I welcome the fact that the police are going to be given greater responsibility,” the MLA said.
“The courts have to be there as a route that’s available, but the police are well placed to exercise common sense on these issues.”
SDLP committee member Alban Maginness said there had been “careful research” into the use of such fines.
“I think it’s appropriate that we should introduce these into Northern Ireland,” he added.
“There’s a lot to be said for an instant penalty being imposed on people, therefore avoiding the elongated process of having to go to court and probably wasting the court’s time.”
Former Police Federation chair Jimmy Spratt MLA said that, if managed properly, the system should allow police to have more, rather than less, time on the streets.
“There is no time preparing documents for the PPS, for example,” he added. “I’ve been an advocate of this for many years and it has been very successful in many other cross-channel forces.”
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said: “By issuing the fixed penalty notices, we cut down on the number of cases that are forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service, which in turn reduces bureaucracy and allows officers to spend more time out on the beat.”
Breakdown of fines:
Both fines can be imposed by police on first-time or non-habitual offenders