Fines legislation - Overdue but very welcome

IT is entirely appropriate, but overdue, that the Government has decided to end the farce of jailing people for a few hours because they have not paid fines imposed for relatively minor offences.

Instead legislation will facilitate attachment orders that will target offenders’ income or property. The legislation will also allow for the recovery of some kinds of debt.

Not only was this jail-for-fines a terrible waste of resources, it undermined our justice system.

It also fostered indifference to the sanctions imposed by our courts and thereby failed utterly to discourage repeat offenders. In short it was an embarrassing fiasco, one that helped suggest that this is a dysfunctional, haphazard society.

The new legislation has been provoked by the prospect of tens of thousands of people refusing to pay water charges. No government could contemplate such a prospect.

The introduction of water charges has been acknowledged as probably the greatest failure in public administration since the foundation of this State — though the electronic voting fiasco runs it close.

It was characterised by a degree of ineptitude and a series of U-turns that also helped suggest that this is indeed a dysfunctional and haphazard society.

That level of failure and the fact that no one has been held responsible for it is utterly unacceptable and cannot be repeated in this instance. This welcome legislation has the potential to be a new force for social responsibility and good.

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