03/02/2012

Ford Highlights Reforms To Fine Enforcement System

Justice Minister David Ford has today signalled his intention to fundamentally reform how the justice system deals with fine defaulters.

Among the proposals he is considering are the development of a civilian fines enforcement service, greater use of community based penalties as alternatives to custody and deductions from income.

The Department has published a summary of responses to its consultation on fine enforcement and officials briefed members of the Justice Committee on the key findings.

Proposals for the way forward include:

* Developing a civilianised enforcement service based on a “Fines Officer” model largely removing police from fines enforcement;

* Fines Officers to have statutory powers under court authority to manage and collect fines;

* Expanding the ways in which people can pay and manage their fines including taking monies directly from income (from both earnings and benefits);

* Increased opportunities for community-based penalties instead of imprisonment including:

* An expansion of the Supervised Activity Order; and

* Providing the Supervised Activity Order as an immediate option for the court as opposed to only being available when default occurs.

David Ford said: “The justice system cannot continue to send people to prison for a few days at a time for not paying their fines.

“This is an untenable position and the system must do better in dealing with fine defaulters. Our proposals provide a range of options that I believe will create a fine enforcement system that is effective, efficient and fair.”

The Minister expressed his commitment to ensuring that the deduction of earning from source will not have a negative impact of families.

He said: “One of my priorities has been to find additional ways of preventing people ending up in prison for non-payment of fines. Often these are low level fines, for offences which would not attract a prison sentence.

“Providing the opportunity to clear a fine by direct deduction, avoiding imprisonment and the traumatic effects this can have on families, is an important option in appropriate circumstances.

“I recognise the potential impact on those on low incomes and will ensure that key aspects of income will be protected - protections to ensure that outgoings relating to housing costs, rent arrears, fuel costs, domestic rates, child support and maintenance for example would not be affected.”

The Department will now consider the views of the Committee on the response to the consultation.

(GK/DW)

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