Thou­sands avoid pay­ing fines and com­pen­sa­tion

Le­gal: MSP highlights fis­cal penal­ties loop­hole

The Press and Journal (Moray) - - NEWS - BY CALUM ROSS

Thou­sands of of­fend­ers are be­ing let off the hook be­cause there is no way to force them to pay fines and com­pen­sa­tion to vic­tims, it has emerged.

New fig­ures show that about a third of the £36mil­lion worth of “fis­cal fines” is­sued in Scot­land since 2009 is still to be paid.

And north-east MSP Lewis Macdon­ald be­lieves the short­fall is linked to a le­gal loop­hole which makes it dif­fi­cult to en­force the law and leaves of­fend­ers with “no in­cen­tive” to pay.

The Labour politi­cian has now writ­ten to Jus­tice Sec­re­tary Michael Mathe­son to high­light the “weak­ness” in the leg­is­la­tion and to de­mand that ac­tion is taken.

He dis­cov­ered the is­sue af­ter be­ing con­tacted by an Aberdeen woman who is still wait­ing for cash to fix a gar­den fence that was dam­aged by an in­truder 18 months ago.

Mr Macdon­ald said the case un­der­lined how dif­fi­cult it can be to col­lect these types of fines, which are is­sued by a procu­ra­tor fis­cal in Scot­land for cer­tain sum­mary of­fences as an al­ter­na­tive to pros­e­cu­tion.

And he high­lighted data from the Scot­tish Court and Tri­bunal Ser­vice which ap­pears to prove that many of­fend­ers are sim­ply ig­nor­ing the penalty.

No fewer than 537,000 warn­ing let­ters, 187,000 court ci­ta­tions and 88,000 ar­rest war­rants were is­sued for non-pay­ment of fis­cal fines in Scot­land be­tween 2008-09 and 2016-17.

In the Grampian and High­lands and Is­lands ar­eas alone, a to­tal of 37,000 warn­ing let­ters, 22,000 court fines and 9,000 ar­rest war­rants were is­sued for not pay­ing the fines in the pe­riod.

In his let­ter to the jus­tice sec­re­tary, Mr Macdon­ald said that fines en­force­ment of­fi­cers were of­ten un­able to get hold of the in­for­ma­tion they need to use their pow­ers to ar­rest in­come and sav­ings, or deduct ben­e­fits.

This is be­cause of­fend­ers are not legally re­quired to fill in dec­la­ra­tion of in­come (DOI) forms.

And courts also do not have the power to im­pose a prison sen­tence or com­mu­nity pay­back order in re­la­tion to fis­cal fines, mean­ing there is “no in­cen­tive” for of­fend­ers to pay, ac­cord­ing to Mr Macdon­ald.

The MSP said: “There’s no means to make some­body pay and there’s no means to make them re­veal their in­come or sav­ings be­cause the law does not re­quire them to do that.

“In the case that I’ve high­lighted, the guy has been hauled back to court three times but off he goes and there’s noth­ing that can be done. ”

Mr Macdon­ald be­lieves that “sim­ple” changes to the leg­is­la­tion could be made to “re­store vic­tims’ faith in the jus­tice sys­tem”, in­clud­ing mak­ing DOI forms manda­tory, and giv­ing the courts the same pow­ers over fis­cal fines which they al­ready have for other types of fines.

A Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment spokesman said: “Since Scot­tish Courts and Tri­bunals Ser­vice took over re­spon­si­bil­ity in 2008, over­all fines col­lec­tion rates have im­proved con­sid­er­ably and are now at con­sis­tently high lev­els.”

“A tooth­less pro­ce­dure with lit­tle de­ter­rent fac­tor is an un­healthy state of af­fairs”

For most of us, a le­gal pun­ish­ment known as a “fis­cal fine” sounds a se­ri­ous mat­ter with pos­si­ble dire con­se­quences. How­ever, they are not scary for many crim­i­nals as they do not bother to pay them. Not only that, the courts seem pow­er­less to do any­thing about it. A tooth­less courts pro­ce­dure with lit­tle de­ter­rent fac­tor is an un­healthy state of af­fairs. A north-east MSP is now de­mand­ing that the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment closes this loop­hole en­cir­cling fines im­posed by the procu­ra­tor fis­cal. The facts ap­pear to of­fer over­whelm­ing sup­port for his case. Of the £36mil­lion fis­cal fines is­sued over a seven-year pe­riod, £12mil­lion were writ­ten off or re­main un­paid. A 30% “fail­ure” rate would sug­gest it is not cost ef­fec­tive or in the pub­lic in­ter­est. The pub­lic in­ter­est here is also about be­ing fair to the vic­tims of crime. These are of­ten the peo­ple who feel they are treated worse than the of­fender by the ju­di­cial sys­tem. A case in point is Michelle Gavin, of Aberdeen, whose gar­den fence was bro­ken by an in­truder. He was given a fixed penalty and com­pen­sa­tion order al­most 18 months ago, but she has not re­ceived a penny so far. The rules must be tight­ened to guar­an­tee an ad­e­quate source of funds – oth­er­wise what is the point of is­su­ing the fines?

Lewis Macdon­ald

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