Justice ‘brought into disrepute’ as almost £18m of fines go unpaid
MILLIONS of pounds in fines, handed out by courts, procurator fiscals and police, are in arrears, according to new figures.
Critics have warned the number of criminals failing to pay up is bringing the system into disrepute, with £17.9 million of penalties outstanding.
They have called for a rethink of Scottish Government policy, which aims to punish more offenders in the community, rather than send them to prison.
The latest figures from the Scottish Court Service show £2m in fines from sheriffs – more than 13 per cent of those dished out last year – were in arrears.
A fifth of Justice of the Peace court fines, worth £1.4m, are still waiting to be paid from 2011-12.
And a further £2m of fiscal fines – which are offered to the accused as an alternative to court – and £1.1m of police antisocial behaviour penalties, were also in arrears.
In both cases, that equates to more than 40 per cent of the total handed out in 2011-12.
Over the past four years, £6.6m of sheriff fines, £3.9m from JP courts, £4.7m issued by fiscals, and £2.7m by police have yet to be paid.
The report, which cover the period up to 12 July, shows there has been a slight improvement in the percentages of offenders paying up.
Duncan McNeil, Labour MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde, said he had become increasingly concerned with problems collecting fines in his area.
He said: “We’ve got a sheriff court here and there were some questions about fine defaults.
“It’s a policy that’s not working, if something’s not working it needs to be reviewed.”
He added: “People think if you go to court and get a fine, so what, there’s nothing they can do to me.”
The Scottish Conservatives said the number of fiscal fines going unpaid should lead to a review of how often they are used. Justice spokesman David McLetchie MSP added: “Fiscal fines are supposed to be an alternative to prosecution, but when they are simply ignored by so many, the public will conclude that they are not much of an alternative.”
However, the Scottish Government pointed to the improvement in rates of collection.
A spokeswoman said: “Overall fine collection has improved significantly in recent years and is now at its highest ever rate.
“While the collection of fines is an operational matter for the Scottish Court Service, the Scottish Government is working with [it] to deliver further improvements to aid enforcement.”
Eric McQueen, executive director of the Scottish Court Service, added: “Our report demonstrates we are committed to rigorously pursuing all unpaid fines through enforcement measures which include arresting wages, freezing bank accounts, deducting benefits and clamping cars. There is no hiding place for fines defaulters.
“In the last three months alone, 29,000 enforcement orders and 12,700 benefit deduction orders have been granted by courts and 1,700 earning arrestment orders issued. We also helped 10,400 people having genuine difficulty getting their fines back on track by agreeing revised payment terms.”
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