According to one of my favourite sources of information – The Law Society’s Gazette – the government has failed yet again to make any significant impression on the £600m of outstanding debt from court fines during the latest financial year.
Apparently the Justice Minister, Helen Grant, has told parliament this month that outstanding fines stood at £1.8bn at the end of April 2012. A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokeswoman confirmed that £600m of that figure was unpaid court fines – around the same figure disclosed by the Gazette in July 2011. So you have to ask yourself what is going on? You see I have a real beef about court fines not being collected and my reasoning is pretty simple. How many frontline services could be paid for from this mountain of debt and how many people who pay their bills on time are paying more for other people’s default? And whilst the rest of us have to digger deeper, and reduce costs and budgets as part of austerity measures why aren’t those who are not paying their fines, compelled to pay?
In a written statement, Grant stressed that Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) collected more than £484m from offenders during the year. But she also said there would be an overhaul of the payment system to make payment easier and improve financial information. Well that’s all very laudable but actually what I want to see is an acknowledgement by Government that more has to be done to compel people to pay what they owe. After all these are criminal fines and penalties and more could and should be done to focus the mind of the fine defaulter to pay.
My concern is that Government is too hands off when it comes to the sharp end of enforcement which is all about removing assets which are then sold to pay the fine. If we can do that in the civil court arena why can’t it be done on the criminal side of enforcement? Surely the case is even more compelling for action to be escalated to removal of goods and assets when someone does pay a fine? And that’s the rub – because no one wants to seem to publicly say that. It’s almost a step too far for Government and its been this way for years and years.
Statistics show that three-quarters of the orders imposed in 2011/12 have been paid in full so that’s the good news. But out of the remaining outstanding impositions, £1.2bn is made up of confiscation orders that have not been recovered. Apparently according to the MoJ about one-third of this can’t be collected. £141m relates to criminals who are deceased, deported or who cannot be located; £154m is classed as ‘hidden’ by the MoJ after financial investigations; and £278m is interest accrued on outstanding confiscation orders.
So whilst HMRC ramps up its focus on taxpayers to cough up I sincerely believe the same should be said of those who don’t pay their fines. It is in the public interest that having been penalized they are compelled to pay and take the consequences if they don’t. Debt collection on its own is not enough – to cut through this mountain of fine default is going to take some tactical thinking, a proper analysis of the cases involved and the full force of the law if people don’t pay which means removing goods. It’s almost as if Government is too scared to tackle the problem!
- Unique Post