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£70m in court fines written off

More than £70 million in fines imposed by the criminal courts was written off by the Government last year, official figures show.

A total of £75,868,426 in fines and other imposed court costs was "administratively cancelled" in 2012/13, a near £30 million increase on the amount written off in 2009/10, when £47,398,379 was not collected, justice minister Shailesh Vara revealed.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said victims of crime will feel insulted by the write-offs which leave taxpayers "short-changed".

Mr Khan, who uncovered the figures using a series of written parliamentary questions, blamed the "incompetence" in collecting money owed on staff cutbacks under the coalition.

The number of staff working to collect fines for Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) was cut from 1,786 in December 2011 to 1,335 in December 2013.

Meanwhile, the number of fines written off rose by more than 40,000 in a year with 269,486 in 2012/13, up from 226,955 in 2011/12.

Mr Khan told the Press Association: "This is a shocking figure which victims of crime will find insulting. Courts give fines as a punishment - payment of them is not some optional extra for those found guilty.

"The fact that the Ministry of Justice is so incompetent at collecting the money owed shows their skewed priorities.

"Because the teams charged with collecting this money have been left under-staffed by Government cutbacks, those committing crimes are allowed to get away without being punished and the taxpayer is being left short-changed."

The figures cover fines, prosecutor costs, compensation and victim surcharges, all imposed by the courts.

Mr Vara said the value outstanding will include amounts remaining on accounts that are being paid by instalments or were not due for payment by the end of the period specified by the court.

The justice minister said the Government was actively seeking to contract an outside provider to enforce payment of fines.

He said: "HM Courts and Tribunals Service takes the issue of financial penalty enforcement very seriously and is working to ensure that clamping down on defaulters is a continued priority nationwide.

"HMCTS actively pursues all outstanding impositions until certain they cannot be collected.

"Collection reached an all-time high at the end of 2012-13 and collection has continued to rise in this financial year.

"At the end of September 2013 total collection (all imposition types excluding confiscation orders) was higher than the same point in the previous year and the outstanding balance had reduced since the start of the financial year.

"On average over the last 12 months 69% of accounts have been either closed or are compliant with payment terms by 12 months after imposition.

"HMCTS are actively seeking an external provider for the future delivery of compliance and enforcement services. This will bring the necessary investment and innovation to significantly improve the collection of criminal financial penalties and reduce the cost of the service to the taxpayer."

The fines levied by the courts in the first nine months of 2013 amounted to £210,561,372, while the figure for the whole of 2012 was £273,944,704.


From Belfast Telegraph