Fixed penalty notices in force
Fixed penalty notices for low level offences like disorderly behaviour come into force in Northern Ireland next week.
Police officers will issue fines of either £40 or £80 to first-time offenders and it is expected the new powers will result in 1,500 fewer people going to court each year.
It forms part of justice minister David Ford's agenda to speed up the justice system.
He said: "Fixed penalty notices are about delivering speedy, effective and proportionate justice responses to a range of low level offences."
Currently two-thirds of all crimes prosecuted through the courts result in the offender receiving a fine of £100 or less.
The minister added: "Many of these cases involve individuals with little or no previous offending history, who have committed relatively minor offences which they admit in court."
Fixed penalty notices will allow for these cases to be dealt with in a more efficient and proportionate way and at the same time free up vital resources within the criminal justice system, the Alliance Party MLA added.
Under the powers which come into force on June 6, a first time offender could receive a £40 fixed penalty notice for being drunk in a public place or an £80 fine for disorderly behaviour. The measures are part of the Justice Act taken through the Assembly last year.
Mr Ford said: "Fixed penalty notices are not about being soft on low level crime and anti-social behaviour. The penalty notice will not be used for habitual offenders who will continue to be prosecuted through the courts."
PSNI assistant chief constable George Hamilton said fixed penalties were one of several methods available to deal with minor offences. "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," he said.