Non-payment of court fines: When crime does not pay

People whose job it is to administer the lower reaches of our courts service could be forgiven if from time to time they thought about a career switch to a line of work that might give them a greater sense of achievement. 

Official papers released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request suggest that working in the offices responsible for enforcing fines imposed by the courts could be fairly likened to the futile labours of Sisyphus. 

But there is more to this than the job satisfaction — as important as that is — of civil servants. 

The revelation that a vast majority of offenders refuse to pay their fines and get away without any form of sanction or punishment erodes confidence in the integrity and equity of our judicial system.

The system appears to break down at the first test: All but 10% of non-fine payers simply ignore the summons to a fine enforcement hearing, after which time and taxpayers’ money is spent on what a senior official in the courts service describes as “increasingly futile” efforts to get fines paid. 

The upshot, then, is that many thousands of offenders face no penalty at all for throwing their fine orders in the bin.

Some 58,000 fines are currently awaiting enforcement. 

It is an alarming indictment not only of the enforcement system but also of a dismally low level of respect for the laws of our land. 

And what message does it send to the small minority of offenders who do pay their fines?

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