07/10/2009

On-The-Spot Fines To Tackle Crime

Those committing low level crime and engaging in anti-social behaviour are to be hit with on-the-spot fines.

The move is amongst a raft of radical new proposals unveiled today in Northern Ireland.

While the Stormont Executive edges closer to a political crisis as the row over devolving policing and justice powers deepens, these new measures will go some way to lessening the amount of paperwork that police officers have to produce.

The NIO Criminal Justice Minister Paul Goggins (pictured) said: "Penalty notices, which can be issued quickly, will provide an option for dealing with minor offences including disorderly and anti-social behaviour.

"A new kind of caution with conditions attached and a new prosecutorial fine will provide a wider range of options for police and prosecutors," he said.

"These radical changes to the criminal justice system will bring enormous benefits and will help to ensure that more police officers are out on our streets delivering local policing in the community," he insisted, noting that the NIO have decided to "move forward now in preparation for the devolution of policing and justice".

The measures have been subject to public consultation with detailed input from the PSNI, the Public Prosecution Service and the Northern Ireland Court Service.

"Current arrangements will be simplified in cases where there is not enough evidence to mount a prosecution," he continued.

"These are important decisions but it has become clear that requiring every case to be formally approved by the Public Prosecution Service may not be the most efficient use of resources."
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The NIO politician said that a pilot exercise across three of the District Command Units will allow police to take decisions for no prosecution in a range of summary cases where they consider that there is not enough evidence to prosecute.

"This will ensure that prosecutorial expertise is focused on more serious and difficult cases," he said.

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said: "The introduction of these new measures will have a significant reduction in the administrative burden placed on police officers, which will allow resources to be redeployed into communities and strengthen the number of officers involved in frontline policing. Confidence in both justice and policing will improve as a result.

"It has been well documented recently of the desire within local communities to have more visible policing across Northern Ireland. We are confident these new arrangements will help achieve that," said the top officer, who is well known as an advocate of community-style policing.

The Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, who superintends the PPS said: "This pilot will give the police the opportunity to weed out some of the cases in which there is insufficient evidence to prosecute without them having to be considered by trained lawyers."

In welcoming the new arrangements the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Alasdair Fraser said: "The Public Prosecution Service has agreed to simplify the reporting arrangements by giving police responsibility for taking decisions in a range of summary cases where police consider that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute."

Meanwhile, a package of measures to tackle levels of default on court fines has also been introduced.

The Minister said: "These measures signal the end of an automatic prison sentence for fine default.

"Each year in Northern Ireland, up to 2,000 individuals are currently locked up for non payment at a cost of £1million to the taxpayer.

"A more rigorous approach to enforcement - including powers to deduct payment from wages and benefits - will ensure that more fines are paid."

(BMcC/GK)

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