Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs has highlighted the disproportional current cost of fine enforcement services. Speaking after the issue was raised during a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, the East Antrim MLA also questioned why the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service is taking two more years before a system to modernise this will be implemented.
Roy Beggs MLA said;
“Over the past number of years there has been an increasing number of people ending up in prison for the non-payment of a fine. The justice system in Northern Ireland seems to live in a different world. At present a fine default of as little as £50 could result in disproportionate, bureaucratic, inefficient response from our legal system.
“The costs involved in taking legal action against a fine defaulter are significant. A fine default court hearing, involving court and legal aid, costs almost £200. The cost of the PSNI issuing a warrant to fine defaulter is estimated to be £122.
“In addition, subsequent court hearings can result in imprisonment, and with the cost of imprisonment being over £200 a day, it clear that it is an ineffective use of public funds.
“Our prisons should be for people who commit serious crime, not for people who fail to pay fines. That is why I believe the current system needs reviewed.
“One of my biggest concerns during the Public Accounts Committee hearing was the apparent lack of urgency from the Department of Justice officials concerning introducing a new system which works well elsewhere. The issues were first raised in 2008 and exposed in the Criminal Justice Inspection report of 2010.
“It is vital that the much talked about new system which would enable fine payment to be sourced by courts through deductions in salary, benefits, bank accounts and vehicles to be seized, be introduced without further delays. Such a system will save millions of pounds for the PSNI, for the Courts Service and for the Prison Service.”