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Measures to improve fine enforcement
Fine enforcement officers in Scotland’s courts are to be granted access to a wealth of information held by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and other Whitehall Departments to help them crackdown on fine defaulters.
While overall fine enforcement rates in Scotland are at consistently high levels, helped by measures such as effective tracing facilities, these changes will send out a clear message to fine defaulters that there is no place to hide.
The changes announced recently follow representations from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, asking him to ensure that court staff in Scotland can obtain access to the same Government databases as their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.
Mr Duncan Smith has now written back to Mr MacAskill to confirm that the current information sharing arrangements are unacceptable and that the Scottish Court Service should have direct access to DWP information to help ensure offenders pay their fines and penalties in full. Scottish officials are working with colleagues in the DWP to make this happen as soon as possible.
Mr MacAskill, who today visited Edinburgh Sheriff Court to hear how tracing facilities put in place by the Scottish Court Service is helping to speed up the process of fine enforcement, said:
“The collection of fines and penalties is crucial to ensuring fair and effective justice, upholding the law and deterring crime. While collection rates have improved since SCS took on responsibility for this and are now at consistently high levels, these figures could be improved further if we had access to key information held about offenders by the Department for Work and Pensions and other Whitehall Departments.
“That’s why I wrote to Iain Duncan Smith earlier in the year, asking him to ensure that as a matter of urgency, SCS staff are able to access the same kind of information which is available to fine enforcement teams in England and Wales. I welcome the fact that he has agreed with me, that is not acceptable for DWP to provide a lesser service to enforcement officers in Scotland, than elsewhere and has stated his determination to work with other Whitehall Departments and the Scottish Government to address this.
“My officials have already been in discussion with their counterparts in DWP and we will be seeking to ensure that these changes are introduced as soon as possible.”
Cliff Binning, Executive Director, Scottish Court Service, Field Service explains:
“Having access to this information about fine defaulters will help us speed up the process of fine collection and make it more efficient. As examples, we will be able to track a defaulter who moves from benefits into work through DWP information and accessing DVLA records will let us clamp cars belonging to fine defaulters to secure quick payments. Fine collection rates continue to increase and these additional tools will make it easier for us to tackle those who seek to avoid paying.”
SCS published its second quarterly fines report for 2012-13 on February 28 this year, which included figures on fines and other financial penalties as of January 11, 2013. The report covered each financial year from 2009-10 and collect rates for the first two quarters of 2012-13.
The key findings for fines and financial penalties imposed or registered up to September 30, 2012 are as follows:
86 per cent of the value of Sheriff Court fines imposed over the period April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2012 has either been paid or is on track to be paid through instalments. The rate for 2011-12 is 70 per cent.
86 per cent of the value of Justice of the Peace Court fines imposed in 2009-10 has been paid or is on track to be paid through instalments. The rate for 2011-12 is 74 per cent.
79 per cent of the value of fiscal direct penalties registered in 2009-10 has been paid or is on track to be paid through instalments. The rate for 2011-12 is 51 per cent, and;
74 per cent of the value of police antisocial behaviour fixed penalties registered in 2009-10 has been paid or is on track to be paid through instalments. The rate for 2011-12 is 58 per cent.
The report also found that as of 11 January, 2013:
more than 433,300 enforcement orders had been granted by the courts.
fines enforcement orders have agreed revised payment terms in almost 126,100 accounts.
more than 93,600 benefit deduction orders have been granted and more than 18,300 earnings arrestmentorders have been issued.
where people are unable to pay, courts have imposed supervised attendance orders on over 8,200 people as an alternative punishment.