Convicted criminals to pay for court fines at the corner shop

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CRIMINALS in Edinburgh will soon be able to pay their court fines when they pop out for a paper at the corner shop.

Instead of weekly trips to court to hand over cash or a cheque to meet their instalments, convicted offenders will be able to call into their newsagent's, grocery store or petrol station and use a payment card similar to those used for paying gas or electricity bills.

But there will be no outward evidence the card is from the court so individuals can pay their fines without the shopkeeper or anyone else knowing what they are there for. Other new payment methods are also being introduced – paying fines over the phone or on the internet by credit or debit card. They will be available for all types of court fine and fixed penalty.

The Scottish Court Service today confirmed the plans.

A spokesman said: "This range of new payment methods is aimed at making it easier to pay and further improving our collection rates."

At the moment around 80 per cent of fines are eventually paid, but often only after the individuals have been sent warning letters or called back to court.

A recent study which took a random sample of cases in Edinburgh and Aberdeen found only 25 per cent of offenders paid their fines without any court intervention. The credit and debit card options are being made available from Monday.

The payment cards are due to be piloted in selected areas in the near future and introduced across Scotland in the summer.

A spokesman for the Edinburgh branch of the Federation of Small Businesses welcomed the move.

He said: "So long as it doesn't put them in any danger, it seems a logical thing to make it easier for people to pay their fines."

But Franco Margiotta, who runs a chain of six grocery shops in the city, said he would not be taking part in any scheme.

He said: "We have never got involved in paying electricity bills and so on, or in the lottery.

"You can make a bit of money from doing it, but it detracts from the customer service."

The new system will mean that when a fine is imposed, the individual will be made aware of the various methods of payment.

If they opt for a payment card, they will have to apply for one through the court. The card issued will contain electronic information to identify the fine. It will be a confidential system with nothing visible on the card to show it is being used to pay a court fine.