Fine-dodging epidemic as yobs laugh at law

MILLIONS of pounds in on-the-spot fines handed out by Scottish police in recent years are being ignored by thousands of offenders.

Police are handing out an increasing number of the controversial anti-social behaviour penalties, with £7.2 million issued in less than four years.

But £2.6m worth of these – more than a third – is in arrears, official figures have shown.

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In some parts of the country, such as Glasgow, non-payment levels have topped 65 per cent, prompting opposition calls for a major crackdown.

Court bosses say they are now planning “targeted action” to tackle the problem in Glasgow against defaulters who have made no payment towards their police fine or similar direct fines issued by prosecutors.

Labour justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald said: “These figures are staggering. It is clear that under the SNP, offenders are seeing paying fines as a matter of choice and not punishment.

“More needs to be done by the SNP to crack down on offenders dodging these fines, and make them pay the millions of pounds owed to the Scottish taxpayer.

“It is frankly unacceptable that over a third of spot fines, levied for anti-social behaviour, go unpaid. It shows the SNP clearly do not take anti-social behaviour seriously let alone collecting taxpayers money. Kenny MacAskill should hang his head in shame at these sums.”

Court chiefs insist that repayment levels are now at a record high, but about £17.5m in court fines issued to thousands of offenders in recent years remains unpaid out of £95.6m-worth which have been imposed.

Scottish Court Service (SCS) executive director, field services, Eric McQueen said: “We targeted individuals who hadn’t made any payment and have taken tough action against them.

“Non-payment of fines is simply no longer an option and we will continue to step up our action to make sure people understand that message.

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“Collection rates have continued to improve year on year since the SCS took on the responsibility for enforcing fines in Scotland. We will pursue all outstanding fines and have robust measures in place to enforce payment.”

The measures introduced to target offenders include arresting wages, freezing bank accounts, deducting benefits and clamping cars. New technology has allowed court chiefs to collect nearly £250,000 in the last six months through automatic benefit deductions. Police fines were aimed at allowing offenders to settle low-level offences like breach of the peace, drinking and urinating in public. There were 10,547 issued in 2008-09, but this jumped to 34,343 by 2101-11.

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said it would be “unrealistic” to expect every penny to be collected.

He added: “The fact so many of these uncollected fines are from spot fines will give the impression that if you are handed such a punishment, it is perfectly possible to dodge it.”

The figures cover the first three quarters of 2011-12 and the three years prior to that.

They show that about £4.5m of fiscal fines, handed out directly by prosecutors, are in arrears over this period.

Just under £15m of the fines were handed out over this period. There were 146,829 of these fines dished out in recent years, but of these 20,373 are in arrears – while a further 38,058 have seen no payment at all.