Fiscal fines, which were part of the Scottish Government’s summary justice system reforms, have been much less successful than the Crown Office may hope everyone believes, as reports in today’s newspapers show.
Yesterday, the Crown Office welcomed the findings of the thematic Review on the use of Fiscal fines but didn’t go too heavily on the fact that despite the enforcement powers for payment, only half of Fiscal fines issued have actually been paid.
The Herald reports :
Exclusive by GERRY BRAIDEN March 26 2009
JUST over half of the fines issued as part of the controversial shake-up of Scotland's summary justice system have been paid, it has emerged.
The failure by 45% of those issued with fiscal fines to pay them, despite the recruitment of dozens of enforcement officers, is understood to have reduced the expected revenues from the scheme by almost £2m.
The figures come as the latest report by the Inspectorate of Prosecution states that the great majority of fiscal fines examined were appropriate and proportionate, including in cases of assault.
The report claims that in five cases of assault for which a fiscal fine was issued, prosecution would have been appropriate, but concludes that financial penalties have brought speedier disposal and less inconvenience to witnesses.
New guidance on several points has been issued while the Solicitor General, Frank Mulholland, has offered to address the Scottish Parliament next month on the use of fiscal fines in their first year of operation.
The latest figures for payment of the fines, which have an upper limit of £300, show just 55% have been fully or partially paid between when the scheme was launched last March and the end of 2008.
The total of the fines issued to date is around £4m, bringing the unpaid tally to just under £2m. The figures are understood to have caused concern and embarrassment in the Crown Office.
Last night Bill Aitken, Tory justice spokesman and chairman of the justice committee, said many offenders had no intention of paying. He said: "Why will they not arrange to take payments from benefits or salaries, thus ensuring that we get the money?"
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Under the strengthened fines enforcement regime, new fines enforcement officers can take action much earlier, without court action, because the onus is on the accused to either accept or reject the fine - doing nothing is no longer an option."