Judge issues 27 bench warrants in one sitting

A district court judge in west Waterford issued 27 bench warrants in one sitting, on foot of non- payment of court fines across the past two years.

Sitting at Dungarvan District Court, Judge Terence Finn signed the orders after only 17 of 44 people listed for enforcement on the day had either paid their fines or were represented in court.

The non-payments follow the introduction of the 2014 Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act, which effectively came into force in 2016.

The act was introduced amid increasing concern that people were being incarcerated for non-violent crimes, petty offences, and situations arising from circumstances such as loss of employment or inability to pay.

In many cases, it was costing the State more to imprison them than the amount of the unpaid fines.

The act replaces imprisonment for non-payment of a fine with prior alternatives, namely:

  • Payment by instalment;
  • Attachment to earning;.
  • Recovery orders if the fine is more than €500 or is a corporate fine;
  • Jail may be imposed if an alternative is not met.

The enforcement actions in relation to the Dungarvan court sitting pertained to due dates up to the end of April 2016.

The offences in question involved indictments that included misuse of drugs, driving violations, public order offences, non- possession of a TV licence, and burglaries.

The fines ranged from €150 up to €500.

Several of those who were summoned to court had paid up in advance of the hearing, while others made their representations through a solicitor.

Issuing the warrants, Judge Finn noted that since the new act, there seemed to be “a perception amongst some people that failure to meet a financial penalty imposed by the court carries no consequences”.

However, he warned: “I wish to assure the public that it will have consequences!”

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