One in three face no action in Scotland after refusing to pay criminal fines

More than one in three criminals who refuse to pay fines imposed on them by Scottish courts are subject to no further action, analysis by the Scottish Conservatives has shown.

According to figures obtained by the party via a Freedom of Information request, around 39 per cent of people who refused to pay fines in 2018/19 faced “no further action” from the justice system.

This number rose to 40 per cent in 2019/20, with the majority of cases in 2020/21 ongoing due to Covid-19 and court backlogs.

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Scottish Conservatives have criticised policy around criminals who fail to pay fines

The Scottish Conservatives said these figures showed the “reality of the SNP’s soft-touch justice system”, adding it was at odds with a statement from deputy first minister John Swinney in Holyrood earlier this year.

The Covid recovery secretary said during a justice debate that “safeguards are built into the operation of fiscal fines, which are not mandatory penalties”.

Mr Swinney said: “Anyone who is offered a fiscal fine as an alternative to prosecution may refuse such an offer by giving notice to the court to that effect.

"In such an event, the refusal is treated as a request by the alleged offender to be prosecuted for the offence, in which case the procurator fiscal decides what action to take in the public interest.”

Reacting to the figures, Scottish Conservative community justice spokesperson Russell Findlay said the number not penalised for refusing to pay fines exposed the “sham” of Mr Swinney’s comments.

He said: “These shocking new figures show the reality of the SNP’s soft-touch justice system, which routinely betrays crime victims.

"This exposes the sham of John Swinney's claim, made to the Scottish Parliament, that rejection of these fines is likely to result in prosecution.

“The message this sends is clear – alleged offenders know they can break the law with impunity as they won't pay the price under this SNP Government.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said decisions around further action were for the Crown Office to take.

The spokesperson said: “Use of non-court disposals for less serious offending is a long-standing and recognised part of the Scottish justice system, which the Scottish Parliament has legislated to provide powers for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) to use.

"Decisions in individual cases as to whether to offer a non-court disposal and the action taken if such an offer is not taken up is entirely a matter for the independent Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.”

Figures released by the COPFS for the past three financial years show the vast majority of fiscal fines issued are paid and cases resolved. A total of 18,705 fines were issued in 2019/20, with 180 charges from that pool marked ‘no further action’.

A COPFS spokesperson said: “Procurators Fiscal deal with every case on its own individual facts and circumstances.

“Effective and appropriate prosecutorial action is not limited to court proceedings and an offer of an alternative to prosecution is an effective response to certain types of minor crimes.

“The Procurator Fiscal will decide what is the most appropriate action to take, whether criminal proceedings or an offer of an alternative to prosecution.

“Where an alternative to prosecution is not accepted, the Procurator Fiscal will decide whether further prosecutorial action is appropriate in the individual case circumstances.”

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