€400k in fines issued under instalment system

More than 2,000 fines, worth around €400,000, have been paid under a new instalment system created to avoid jailing fine defaulters.

These 2,000 cases are among some 20,000 fines cases dealt with by the courts in 2016, from which almost €5m was collected in total.

The Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 came into effect on January 11, 2016, when the Courts Service set up a system through An Post by which court-ordered fines could be paid by instalment.

There had been no such system prior to this and it was the final piece in a series of legal changes designed to end the growing numbers of people being jailed for failing to pay court fines.

The courts must now consider a set of options before jailing a fine defaulter. If a person fails to pay a fine, either in whole or by instalment, a court must then examine other enforcement sanctions: Attachment orders, recovery orders and community service.

Only after those measures have failed, or are not deemed appropriate, can prison be considered.

Courts Service figures show:

  • 20,442 fines cases were dealt with in 2016, with fines worth €4.9m collected;
  • 25,035 fines cases were dealt with in 2015, with €6.2m being collected;
  • 2,072 fines were paid in 2016 by instalment, with €402,000 collected.

The first batch of enforcement proceedings, for failure to pay court fines by April 30 last, were issued on July 21 — with a total of 2,332 notices being issued.

The first of these proceedings are due to be heard in September.

The Courts Service said no enforcement proceedings have yet commenced in respect of those who failed to pay through the instalment option in 2016.

“Where a person chooses to pay by instalment, the first instalment must be paid within 42 days from the date the fine was imposed and thereafter by further instalment over a period of 12 months,” said a spokesman.

“Since the act was only commenced on January 11, 2016, the instalment period available would not have elapsed by the end of 2016.”

Prison Service figures show 8,439 fine defaulters were jailed in 2016, compared to 9,883 in 2015. In 2015, fine defaulters accounted for 60% of all committals, putting enormous strain on the prison system.

Imprisonment of fine defaulters had jumped four-fold from 2008, when there were 2,520 committals.

Last week, outgoing Chief Justice Susan Denham said the Fines Act had been “successful” in that its objective was to make the jailing of fine defaulters a last resort.

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