Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill 2013: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill 2013 is very important legislation with three main objectives, namely, restoring confidence in the administration of justice where fines have been imposed by the courts, ensuring that the fines imposed by the courts are collected and reducing to the minimum possible extent the number of people committed to prison each year for the non-payment of a fine. Fines are the most widely used sanction in the legal system and for them to work, there are three key ingredients. The first is that the fine must be set at an amount that the fined person can reasonably afford to pay. The second is that, with the busy lives people lead and with their expectations as to how business in done in the 21st century, the methods of payment of a fine should be as simple and convenient as possible. One must not put hurdles in the way of people paying moneys due to the State and, where staged payments or instalments would help a person to meet his or her obligations, one must facilitate these. Finally, there must be an expectation on the part of the person on whom a fine is imposed that it will be collected, whether in cash or in kind. Fines imposed must be enforced if the system is not to fall into disrepute.

Our current system, which has been largely in place since the foundation of the State, fails on two of these three grounds. The requirement to take a person's financial circumstances into account in setting a fine was provided for in section 14 of the Fines Act 2010. The same provision is contained in section 5 of the Bill before the House today. As for the other elements, neither is in place in any meaningful way. In explaining this I wish to go back to the 2010 Act and its provisions regarding the payment and recovery of fines, most of which have not been commenced, and I will start with the payment of fines. At present, when the court imposes a fine on a person, the judge decides that the fine must be paid by some specified date in the future. At the same time, he or she signs a warrant for the person's arrest and imprisonment in the event that the latter does not pay the fine. This warrant is executed automatically without further recourse to the courts. Section 15 of the 2010 Act, which has not been commenced, was intended to improve the situation by providing for the payment of fines by instalments. However, the provision is very limited and could be described as begrudging. To qualify to be allowed to pay by instalments, a person on whom a fine has been imposed must apply to the court and convince the court that the payment of the fine in full by the due date would cause him or her undue hardship. If the court is so convinced, it then decides on the period over which the fine must be paid. There also is provision in the Act for a person to return to court to seek an extension of the payment period of up to two years.

In framing this Bill, I took into account the approach the Oireachtas has taken in legislating for the local property tax and its predecessor, the household charge. In both those cases, it is left to the liable person to decide whether to pay the charge in full by the due date or to pay by instalments. There are people who can pay bills when they fall due and others who cannot. There are some who, even if they can afford it, prefer to discharge bills over a period of time. This Bill provides for some flexibility in the method of discharging a fine, while seeking to ensure that fines imposed are paid. Where a fine remains unpaid, a meaningful sanction applies without imposing an unnecessary administrative burden on an already overloaded legal system and unnecessary expense on the taxpayer. In this Bill I am providing for a much more accessible and less administratively burdensome instalment payment option. Anyone who wishes to pay a fine in instalments can do so and those instalments will be paid over 12 months. The making available of payment by instalments to all has been counterbalanced by the removal of the extension provisions in the 2010 Act and the imposition of an administrative charge of up to a maximum of 10% where a person chooses to pay by instalments. The Bill also contains provisions to deal with the issue of a person failing to pay the fine in full by instalments over the 12 months. In all of this, one must remember that half of all fines imposed are for less than €200 and the average fine is just over €300. It also should be recalled that the fine imposed in the first instance will have been set having regard to the person's financial circumstances. As no-one should have a fine fixed at an amount that clearly is unaffordable, fines will be set at levels that are reflective of the person's means and such fines can be paid over 12 months. I am certain that this is a major advance on both the current situation and that intended by the 2010 Act.

The next element is the follow-up for non-payment of a fine. As it stands, if a person fails to pay a fine by the due date, the warrant is executed and the person is arrested and committed to prison for the requisite period. While that period currently is up to 90 days, of course the reality in practice is nothing like that. Leaving aside the question of unexecuted warrants, even where warrants are executed, the person is processed through the prison with little or no expectation on the part of either the individual or the officers concerned that the full prison sentence will be served. Indeed, the Prison Service has stated that of the 242 people imprisoned in 2012 in connection with the non-payment of a television licence fee, 236 were released within hours of their detention. It is common knowledge that imprisonment, in any real sense, for the non-payment of fines is now a rarity and only the unlucky spend even a night in prison. The criminal justice system requires that, as far as possible, crime is prevented, that where it occurs it is detected, that, where it is detected, prosecution and conviction follow and finally, that whatever sanction the court imposes is enforced. One must ensure that decisions made in the courts are respected and fully complied with. It is to the credit of the vast majority of the Irish people that the payment rate for fines is as high as it is, given the problems with the current system.

As for what is different about this Bill, the landmark innovation being introduced therein is the attachment of earnings for unpaid fines. Attachment orders will be made only where it is appropriate to do so but where they are made, the fined person's employer will be required to deduct the amount of the fine from the fined person's earnings and pay it to the Courts Service. This provision will address those "strategic defaulters", if I might borrow a phrase from another arena, who despite being employed and having sufficient resources to pay a fine, do not do so in the hope there will be no consequence to their non-payment. Underpinning the approach in the Bill is the principle that if one has the income, cash or other assets to pay the fine, then the courts will recover the fine. The second major change pertains to recovery orders. These were provided for in the 2010 Act, albeit in an almost completely unworkable form. Recovery orders allow for the recovery of the fine, including by the seizure of assets that can be converted into cash.

Rather than making recovery orders automatically when a fine is imposed as provided for by the 2010 Act, which would undoubtedly have led to their being made in wholly inappropriate cases, the making of a recovery order will now be one of the options open to court when a person defaults. A recovery order will only be made after a court has determined that the fined person has the means to pay the fine or has assets that can be seized by the receiver and disposed of to discharge both the fine and the expenses of the receiver. If this is not the case, the court will not impose a recovery order.

Finally, under the 2010 Act, community service was only considered after a person had failed to pay a fine and a receiver had failed to recover it. In this Bill, community service is available to the court in all cases of default, where the court determines that it would not be appropriate to make either an attachment or recovery order.

I will now take the Members through the various steps that will be involved with the payment and collection of fines if this Bill is enacted. As I said, the first step will be the setting of a fine by the court that takes into account the financial circumstances of the fined person. He or she will have the option to pay that fine in one payment by the due date or in equal instalments over 12 months. Where the person chooses to pay the fine by instalments, an administration charge of up to 10% may be applied. If the fine is not paid in full, irrespective of the payment option chosen, the recovery provisions in the Bill will then apply.

The fined person will be required to appear again before the court and to provide a statement of their financial circumstances. The court will then decide, in the first instance, whether to impose an attachment order or a recovery order. It is to be expected that where the person is in employment and has earnings sufficient to pay the fine, an attachment order will be made. On the other hand, if the person is either self-employed or unemployed, the court may make an attachment order if the person has funds or assets that can be used to pay the fine. Where the court determines that it would be inappropriate to make either an attachment order or a recovery order, it may impose a community service order. The rules for the making of such orders are the same as for community service generally. It is only where a fined person is not prepared to do community service or is deemed unsuitable for such service by the Probation Service that the court must consider sending the him or her to prison. This is a more streamlined approach that is tailored to the specific circumstances of each case of default.

Turning to the contents of the Bill, section 1 provides for the Short Title and commencement. Section 2 defines terms used in the Bill. Among the terms defined are "due date for payment", which is either the date set by the court or, where a person opts to pay the fine by instalments, 42 days from the date the fine is imposed. In the case of instalments, this due date refers to the date that each instalment falls due to be paid. Section 3 is a standard provision dealing with the making of orders and regulations under the Bill and the laying of said orders and regulations before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Section 4 deals with repeals. The intention is to repeal section 43(2) of the Criminal Justice Administration Act 1914, which deals with the taking into account of a person's means when fixing a fine, section 195 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, which deals with the recovery of fines imposed on indictment and fines imposed on companies; and Part 3 of the Fines Act 2010 which deals with the payment and recovery of fines.

Section 5 is an almost identical provision to section 14 of the Fines Act 2010. It obliges the court to take into account the defendant's financial circumstances in determining the amount of the fine, if any, to impose. Section 14 has already been commenced and will remain the law up until the commencement of this section. The only change being introduced in this section is to make the offences summary only.

Section 6 provides that a fined person has the option of either paying the fine in full by the due date for payment - the date set by the court - or by instalments of amounts or percentages of the total fine at a frequency which will be contained in regulations to be made by the Minister under section 3. The section also sets out the methods by which payment may be made and allows for payment to be made to persons other than the court, where regulations to this effect are made. Where a person chooses to pay by instalments, the first instalment must be made within 42 days and the last instalment within 12 months from that date. Subsection (3) requires a person who chooses to pay by instalments and who is in employment or in receipt of an occupational pension to provide the court with details regarding their employment that may be used in the event that they fail to pay the fine in full by the due date and the court has to consider whether to make an attachment order. Subsection (5) provides for the application of an administration fee of up to 10% where a person chooses to pay a fine by instalments. Subsection (6) provides that the option of instalments is only available where a fine of at least €100 is imposed, although where more than one fine is imposed and the total value of all the fines imposed is €100 or more, the person may pay the fines by instalments.

Section 7 sets out what is to happen where a person fails to pay a fine by the due date. Subsection (1) provides that the court fixes a date for a hearing at which it shall make a recovery order or an attachment order or, if neither is appropriate, a community service order where the necessary conditions for the making of such an order are met. Subsection (2) provides that where a person fails to pay an instalment by the due date for payment, the court may decline to take action under this section for the time being. Without the flexibility provided by this subsection, the court would be required to set in train the processes under this section, even where a person who had failed to make an instalment payment had subsequently resumed payment and had paid any outstanding instalment. Subsection (3) provides that the person is required to provide the court with a statement of income and assets in such format as the court may decide. Subsection (4) provides that where the court decides that none of the three orders mentioned is appropriate, it may commit the person to prison. Subsection (8) makes it a summary offence to knowingly or recklessly provide an inaccurate, incorrect or incomplete statement of income and assets.

Section 8 deals with the appointment of receivers and the making of recovery orders to recover unpaid fines, including by the seizure and sale of property belonging to the fined person. The main difference between this section and section 16 of the 2010 Act relates to the making of recovery orders. In the 2010 Act, this is done automatically whereas this is not the case in the Bill. Otherwise, the sections are almost identical. One change is in subsection (5), which allows the receiver to delegate such of his or her functions to his or her employees, servants, bailiffs or agents as he or she thinks appropriate. This is to clarify that the receiver does not personally have to carry out all of the functions.

Section 9 provides for the issuing of notices in electronic format. This is a new provision that is not contained in the 2010 Act.

Section 10 provides for the appointment of receivers by the Government on the nomination of the Minister for Justice and Equality and with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Section 20 of the 2010 Act contains a similar provision.

Section 11 deals with the situation where a fine has not been recovered by the receiver. Subsection (1) says that where the receiver has been unable to recover the fine or the outstanding balance of the fine where the person has opted to pay by instalments, he or she shall inform the court and, under subsection (2), the court, on being so notified, will require the person to appear before the court. Subsections (3) to (5), inclusive, set out the process by which a person may be brought before the court. Subsection (6) provides that, at the hearing, the court has the option of making a community service order or committing the person to prison.

Section 12 provides for the cesser of a recovery order. Subsection (1) provides that a person may elect to pay the remaining balance of the fine at any time, and if the payment is made other than to the receiver, the recovery order is deemed to have been revoked and the Courts Service will advise the receiver accordingly. Subsection (2) says that the recovery order will cease to have effect on payment into court of the fine and to the receiver of his or her fees and expenses or on the receiver notifying the court that he or she has been unable to recover the full fine under section 11(1). Subsection (3) provides that where the receiver has notified the court under section 11(1), the recovery order will continue in force in relation to any part of the fine recovered but not paid into court before the notice was given, any property seized but not sold before the notice was given, and any proceeds from the sale of property not paid into the court when the notice was given.

Section 13 provides that moneys paid into court by a receiver are to be paid to the Minister for Finance. Subsection (2) provides that where the fine is properly due to another body, for example, a local authority, the moneys are to be paid to that body.

Section 14 deals with the making of an attachment order. Subsection (1) states that where the fined person is in employment or in receipt of an occupational pension, the court may make an order directing the person's employer to deduct the fine from the person's earnings and to pay the sums deducted in the manner specified in the order. Subsection (2) provides that the amounts deducted must be sufficient to ensure the fine is paid within 12 months of the date the order was made, but gives the court discretion to require a shorter period, for example, where a considerable portion of the fine has already been paid by instalments. Subsection (3) sets out the information to be included in the attachment order, including the amounts to be deducted and the frequency at which deductions are to be paid over to the Courts Service.

Section 15 deals with compliance with an attachment order. It provides in subsections (1) and (2) for the service of the attachment order on the person's employer, or on any person who subsequently becomes the person's employer, at his or her residence or place of business or by sending the order or a copy of it by registered prepaid post to either. Subsection (3) requires the employer to comply with the order but says that he or she is not liable for non-compliance during the first ten working days.

This is to allow for a situation where the employer is not the person's employer, in which case, under subsection (4), the employer is required to notify the court accordingly. Subsection (5) requires an employer who ceases to be the person's employer to notify the court of this fact within ten working days. The employer is also required to pay over to the court any moneys already deducted from the employee under the attachment order. Subsection (6) requires the employer to give the person a statement of the total amount of every deduction made in compliance with the order. Subsection (7) makes it an offence for an employer, without reasonable cause, to fail to comply with an attachment order.

Section 16 deals with notification of changes in employment and employment status. Where a person ceases to be in the employment of the employer to whom an attachment order is directed, he or she must, under subsection (1)(a), notify the court within ten working days. The person must advise the court whether he or she is in new employment or is no longer in employment. Where the person has changed employer, a new attachment order is to be issued to the new employer. Subsection (1)(b) provides that where the court has been advised that the person has a new employer, the court shall issue the attachment order to that new employer. To take account of time lost in the process of issuing the order to the new employer, the court is given discretion to increase the period over which the remainder of the fine may be recovered. Subsection (2) provides that where the court is advised by either the person or their employer that he or she is no longer in employment and he or she does not pay off the balance of the fine, the court shall, unless it decides otherwise, fix a date for a hearing. Subsection (3) provides for the issuing of a notice requiring the person to attend court in order to determine if a community service order should be made. Subsection (4) provides that the notice is to set out the options open to the court at the hearing, namely, imposition of a community service order or imprisonment. The summons will also state that the person may be arrested if he or she fails to appear before the court. Subsection (7) provides that, at the hearing, the court will either make a community service order or commit the person to prison.

Section 17 states that an attachment order will cease to have effect on payment in full of the fine. Subsection (2) provides that where a person ceases to be in the employment of an employer, the order shall be revoked. The employer remains bound by the order in so far as any deductions are made after the order is revoked and any deductions made at any time by the employer.

Section 18 provides that moneys paid into court on foot of an attachment order are to be paid to the Minister for Finance. Subsection (2) provides that where the fine is properly due to another body, for example, a local authority, the moneys should be paid to that body.

Section 19 amends the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act 1983 in subsection (1)(c)(i) to provide that a court may make a community service order where the provisions of section 4 of the Act have been complied with, that is, where the person is willing to comply with the order and is considered suitable by the Probation Service. A community service order may be made under section 7 where the court does not consider that it would be appropriate to make either a recovery order or an attachment order in the event of default. Alternatively, a community service order may be made where the fine has not been recovered in full following the making of an attachment order or a recovery order. Subsection (1)(c)(ii) amends section 3(2) of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act to provide that where a fine is in respect of a conviction on indictment, the order may provide for between 40 and 240 hours of work, whereas in the case of a summary conviction, between 30 and 100 hours may be prescribed.

Subsection (1)(d) amends the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act to provide that the hours of work specified in respect of the non-payment of a fine are additional to any other hours which the court has already imposed on the person. In determining the number of hours to be worked, the court is to take into account any sums already paid by the person, for example, where he or she has availed of the option to pay by instalments and has paid one or more of these, or any amounts recovered on foot of a recovery order or an attachment order. Subsection (1)(e) amends the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act to provide that whereas in the normal course it is an offence to fail to comply with a community service order, this is not the case where the order is made in respect of the failure to pay a fine.

Section 20 amends the Courts (No. 2) Act 1986 to provide that a court may commit a person to prison where he or she has failed to pay a fine in full or where the fine or part thereof remains outstanding following the appointment of a receiver or the making of an attachment order. The court may also commit a person to prison where it is not possible to make a community service order because either the person does not consent or the Probation Service does not consider the person suitable for community service. The Act is also amended to provide that the court shall commit a person to prison where he or she has failed to comply with the terms of a community service order. The Bill makes different provisions depending on whether the fine was imposed summarily or on indictment. A table, which will be inserted into the 1986 Act, sets out the different numbers of days - ranging from five to 30 - to be served depending on the amount of the fine outstanding. Where a fine is imposed on indictment, a prison sentence of up to 12 months may be imposed.

Section 21 deals with the method by which notices referred to elsewhere in the Bill are to be served. Section 22 amends the Courts (No. 2) Act 1991 to provide that in so far as section 1 of that Act or section 23 of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851 are concerned, penal sums are to be dealt with in accordance with the Bill once section 7 has been commenced.

Section 23 provides for data sharing and exchange for the purposes of assisting the courts in the collection of fines. The Revenue Commissioners, the Minister for Social Protection and any other person prescribed by the Minister under section 3 shall provide the courts with any information in their possession or control which the court may require in order to fulfil its functions in respect of the payment and recovery of fines.

Fine defaulters could traditionally have been divided into two categories: those who cannot pay and those who will not pay. For the most part, the provisions requiring that a judge take a person's financial circumstances into account should ensure that fines which are too big to be paid by the offender will not be imposed. For those who will not pay, the provisions in the Bill will ensure the courts will have the power to recover a fine in cash or in kind, including by the performance of community service. That is as it should be. We owe it to society in general to ensure the sanctions imposed by the courts are enforced. We also owe it to those people who pay the fines imposed on them that we ensure others who can afford to pay but who choose not to do so will not get away with their disrespect for the law, the State and their fellow citizens. Respect for the law is a cornerstone of any democratic state. That respect extends to compliance with the sanctions imposed by such a state where its laws are broken. Failure by a state to ensure such compliance leads progressively to an erosion in respect for the laws of the state and ultimately for that state itself. This Bill will go some way towards ensuring the disrespect shown by some to the law is neither ignored nor rewarded but is instead challenged and defeated. Our citizens deserve no less.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Fianna Fáil welcomes the thrust of the Bill, which draws on the 2010 Act passed by the former Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern. However, we have a number of specific concerns which we would like the current Minister to address. We are of the view that there should be an extension of payment instalments period beyond the 12 month timeframe to accommodate large fines and those who may struggle to pay. Imprisonment costs the State money, with 7,500 people imprisoned annually for not paying fines. That represents a significant cost upon the State and is a personal trauma for the individuals involved. The administrative surcharge on fines should be the instalment method and should not be added to by a punitive interest rate, which is mean spirited and which hits those who are least able to pay fines hardest. Attachment of earnings orders, which involve fines being deducted directly from wages, should be a last resort. These orders place an unfair administrative burden on employers and will damage the working relationship between employers and the recipients of fines. They may have the perverse and unfair effect of undermining the employment prospects of the recipient of a fine with his or her firm.

Community service should be used in circumstances where people do not have the means to pay fines and should be used to replace the imprisonment mechanism. Statistics show that there has been a slow but progressive increase in the prison population and a sharp rise in the daily average number of persons in custody during the past decade. This appears to show a slow increase in prison numbers, which has been exacerbated by an increase in the number of people imprisoned for minor offences but which has been held back by overcrowding. For example, in 2009, there were 10,865 committals under sentence. This represented an increase of 35% on 2008. Of those 10,865 committals, 9,216, or 85%, were for sentences of 12 months or less. By comparison, 1,667 individuals were issued with community service orders in 2009.

It is clear that prison does not always act as a deterrent and that it has a negative impact on prisoners. Research appears to indicate that short prison sentences act neither as a deterrent nor as a means of rehabilitating offenders. An article by UCD academics, entitled Recidivism in the Republic of Ireland, concludes that offenders sentenced to prison terms of less than six months have high rates of reoffending. Utilising alternative methods to reduce the prison population and administrative burden are important in the context of tackling the pressure under which the Prison Service is operating and addressing the issue of recidivism.

Paying fines by instalments is provided for in section 6. The broad effect of this is to introduce a much more comprehensive system and set of details relating to the fines process along with allowing for an administrative fee. The provisions of the Bill would give the choice to the person fined and the court has to inform such a person of his or her options. This would apply to fines of more than €100 and fines would have to be paid in full within one year. The Minister can fix an administration fee generally to fines but this fee cannot exceed 10% of the total fine. This administrative fee should not be placed as a further burden to fine levels which inflict a further punishment on recipients. This is the duty of the courts and not the Minister. The fee should reflect a realistic costs analysis of how much the new instalment system will cost to implement.

The Bill adds the new option of an attachment of earnings order. Recovery orders and community service were provided for under the 2010 Act, but the sections allowing for this have not yet been commenced. The key issue is that these alternatives are employed to avoid a jail sentence. The Bill changes the system of community service to provide that failure to pay a fine can merit a court sentence of community service. This was envisioned in the Fines Act 2010, although section 18 of that Act was never commenced. The level of community service will be based on the scale of the fine and how much has been paid to date.

It is an important part of rebalancing our justice system towards rehabilitation and making a contribution towards communities that we utilise community service rather than imprisonment. Increasing the use of community service delivers financial savings, diverts from the prison system offenders who would otherwise be imprisoned, and provides reparation in the form of unpaid work to the benefit of the community.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust has estimated that imprisoning fine defaulters costs the State more than €2 million per year in courts, Garda and prison service resources compared with the costs of making the necessary upgrades to the courts IT system to process payments by instalment, estimated at €400,000. It is vital that the Government accelerates the IT upgrades necessary to facilitate the new payments structure.

Fianna Fáil welcomes the Bill and asks that the Minister takes into account the issues we have raised. The Bill makes much more sense and is a sensible approach to addressing the issue and avoiding situations where people face draconian prison sentences and must serve short terms in prison which are totally disproportionate to the offences committed.

The Minister is on a bit of a roll. Before the summer recess, I commended him on many good innovations in the Bill we were debating at that time. This is also a very welcome Bill and, as Deputy McConalogue said, there is much common sense contained in it. On balance, we very much welcome it. I cannot help noticing the amount of legislation which comes through this portfolio and other legislation which amends existing legislation, such as the Fines Act 2010, which has never been fully implemented. I wonder how this process can take so long. The original Act came into being in 2010 and here we are three years later amending it. Why has it only ever been partially commenced? Surely there is a better way to legislate than this.

That aside, I welcome this Bill which strives to modernise the courts fines system and offer alternatives to imprisonment to those who have been found guilty for failure to pay a fine. I was pleased to hear the Minister, when he launched this Bill in July of this year, reiterate his commitment to keeping to a minimum the number of people committed to prison for the non-payment of fines. In effect, the Bill will ensure there are substantially fewer prisoners in our jails serving short sentences for non-payment of fines. This is something about which I feel very strongly given that prisoners are hugely costly to the State. We know that each prisoner costs us more than €60,000 per year. If one breaks the figure down in respect of short sentences, one can see that we really need to think about our whole imprisonment strategy.

My office undertook an exercise and spent some time attempting to cost the difference between imprisoning people who were guilty of minor offences, in particular those sentenced to fewer than six months, versus imposing community service on them. The results were quite striking. The saving that can be made from this change alone is potentially tens of millions of euro. I would be happy to share that finding with the Minister.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust has told us there were 8,304 committals to prison for fines default in 2012, which we can all agree is a very significant figure. However, the more significant statistic here is that more than 85% of people imprisoned for non-payment of fines return to prison within four years. Unfortunately, this highlights that for some people, they would prefer to serve time in prison than pay a fine, in particular, as the statistics show, if they have previously spent time in prison. For some who have already spent some time in prison, being sentenced to a day or, as the Minister demonstrated, in most cases, a couple of hours in prison is really no deterrent at all when it comes to the non-payment of fines. The system in its current form is not working and needs reform, so I am glad we are finally moving towards this.

I take the opportunity to speak briefly about the important work undertaken by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in its report on penal reform in March of this year. I fully support all the recommendations contained in the report and look forward to working towards implementing them. The first recommendation of the report was a reduction in prison numbers via a decarceration strategy, reducing the prison population by one third over a ten year period. The second recommendation was to commute prison sentences of fewer than six months, recommending that all sentences for fewer than six months imprisonment imposed in respect of non-violent offences should be commuted and replaced with community service orders. As I said, that is not only desirable in terms of wanting fewer people in prison but it would save a lot of money for our taxpayers. It is preferable having people working in community service and giving something back to their communities than being in prison for short periods of time.

According to the Irish Prison Service, 272 people were jailed for non-payment of television licence fines in 2012. This is a prime example of where community service should be used as a real alternative and an opportunity to make people give something back or do something positive for society. In this Bill, there is the option of instalment payments or attachment orders. The whole process makes sense. We do not want a situation where people, in particular elderly people, face prison sentences for non-payment of the likes of television licences.

I welcome section 5 which ensures the court will impose a fine based on the person's ability to pay it and the effect it may have on that person's dependants. The system should take into account a person's ability to pay a fine when it is being set as this is fair. However, I have some reservations around how the financial circumstances are defined in terms of a person's property. I would like it clarified as to whether there is a possibility that debt may be recovered via repossession of the family home. This may be something on which I will seek to submit amendments on Committee Stage, but we can discuss it further on that Stage.

Section 6(2) has made a change to the Fines Act 2010 with which I do not agree. I appeal to the Minister to retain the 24 month period as opposed to changing it to 12 months. This makes sense given the current financial climate. There is also a suggestion from the Irish Penal Reform Trust and some other non-governmental organisations that a flat administration fee or a cap be put on fines as opposed to the 10% charge set out in the Bill. I would like to hear the Minister's reasoning behind this 10% charge. Obviously, it is an administrative fee but why is it 10%? Again, this may be something I will seek to amend on Committee Stage.

In regard section 6(6), it is regrettable that there is no instalment option for fines of less than €100. For many individuals and families in the Ireland of 2013, €100 is still a significant amount of money and could make a very significant impact on a family. I will seek to amend this section to remove this.

Regarding section 8, the IPRT has recommended that consideration should be given to setting out a maximum level or proportion of receivers' fees where property is seized. I would have to agree with them on this aspect of the matter. In terms of section 11, it is worth querying if it may be beneficial to provide for community service or attachment of earnings rather than imprisonment to be pursued as the next option in cases where there has been a failure to recover assets.

I would like to conclude by reiterating my overall support for this Bill. I commend the Minister on introducing it. As I believe it marks a step in the right direction, I do not want to be overly negative about it. However, I have some concerns around some aspects of it. As I have indicated throughout my speech, I intend to submit amendments on Committee Stage to strengthen the Bill where I feel it could be strengthened.

I would like to share time with Deputy Clare Daly.

It is clear from many perspectives that imprisonment for non-payment of relatively minor fines, or unwillingness to pay such fines, should be seen as a measure of last resort. In that context, the revised legislation before the House, the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill 2013, is welcome in so far as a serious discussion on this vexed and complicated issue needs to take place. Some of the details of the Bill represent a move or a number of moves towards a policy that may be damaging to Irish society in the long term. Most worryingly, the design of the legislation means it is likely to have a more negative effect on the less well-off.

The role, intended purpose and function of the fines system itself must be put up for discussion before we begin to debate the contents of the Bill. Does one receive a fine as punishment for wrong-doing to discourage one from recidivism? Does one receive a fine as punishment, while at the same time making a little revenue for the State? As a direct result of the failures of this Government and its predecessor to look objectively at our failed banking system, the fiscal affairs of the State are in a dire state. It is misguided to see the fines system as a credible method of generating much-needed revenue, as the Bill before the House, by its own internal logic, appears to do. Such an approach has the potential to lead to all kinds of problems at a future stage.

I accept that the imposition of short prison terms for non-payment of fines should be seen as a last alternative. Imprisonment is costly to the State and, arguably, has very little merit in and of itself. The emphasis on extending powers and expanding the recovery orders system as outlined in section 3, in addition to the application of attachment orders as covered in sections 14 to 18, seems unwarrantedly aggressive and, in the overall scheme of things, potentially counter-productive. We could take a more fruitful, valuable and effective approach to this subject by placing a renewed emphasis on the establishment of a more wide-ranging community service programme and by devoting our energies to the instalment payments service in a way that is sensitive to the means of the offender and, importantly, easy to use.

It may be the case that a community service system would be difficult to run effectively. If it received the co-operation of local communities and councils, it could be a real option to be encouraged. It could have numerous productive offshoots, including the regeneration of shared public spaces. It could give people an opportunity to learn new skills and to make reparations to the community. It could be used to integrate offenders into the community. Importantly, as an alternative to imprisonment it could be a cost-effective punishment. I should add that if we could provide for a really good community service structure, we should consider making some forms of community service compulsory in these cases, especially for those who can afford to buy their way out of their problems.

It is clear that the proposed Bill favours the use of recovery orders and attachment orders and views community service as a last alternative to imprisonment. Admittedly, the continuous downgrading of our local authorities does not help matters. This position clearly fails to engage with the real long-term benefits of community service and the potential long-term negatives that may result from the more repressive approach that is proposed. It could also be argued that this position regards capital as more important than the public good. There is a worry that the decision to put in place a system of receivers will amount to the creation of a new private industry that will, in the main, target the less well-off. It is plain to see that those who engage in public order, theft and drugs offences will be on the receiving end of this treatment. The Probation Service's research report of November 2012 states that "the three most common offences for which offenders were reconvicted were the same as the three most common original offences: Public Order, Theft and Drugs". The citizens who commit such offences are primarily those who find themselves economically at the fringes of society.

It is politically suspect, to say the least, to widen the scope and encourage the activities of debt collectors, who have the authority to forcibly enter and confiscate the property of citizens and who operate in a system that is tailor-made for abuse. Judging by a recent RTE programme, "The Sheriff and Me", one could be forgiven for suspecting that the ethical conduct of the office of the sheriff leaves much to be desired. Few, if any, members of the public welcome the possibility of a mob of State-sanctioned debt collectors entering their homes by force and extracting their possessions. It may be fair to presume that those who can afford to pay their fines will do so. In effect, this means we will help to create a two-tier system in this area, just as we are increasingly doing in many sectors of society under today's version of capitalism. Under the system to which I refer, the rich are rewarded for their ability to pay and the poor are punished for their inability to pay.

Aristotle said that "democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers". We are currently failing to live up to that definition. In a properly functioning democracy, the State would at least see its role as protecting the weak from the strong rather than erecting buttresses under the structure of inequality that is prevalent in Ireland today. This Bill in its essence represents the groupthink of those who do not give a damn about democracy or anything resembling it. This is libertarianism, with State repression thrown in for good measure. If one can afford to pay one's way, that is fine - off one goes. If not, one will be crushed. Time and again, the Government fails to appreciate that it has colluded in the largest increase in inequality this country has seen for many generations. A recent EU Anti-Poverty Network document on wealth distribution calculated that in Ireland, 1% of the population holds 20% of the wealth, 2% of the population controls 30% of the wealth, and the top 5% of the population disposes of 40% of private assets.

This legislation may help to keep some people out of prison, which is to be commended, but it will also manage to hurt those at the bottom of the ladder who are in that position because of the failure of successive Governments to understand a concept of value that has a human being built into it. Our useless, failed and corrupt banking sector has been propped up at untold human cost to this country and with little tangible return. Our schools and hospitals are overcrowded. This country's youth unemployment rate is astronomical. The Government and some right-wing Members of this Parliament think that economic growth is the answer to all our problems. In the first instance, it should deal with the huge issue of unemployment, which affects so many people in this country today.

Could the Deputy explain how to provide employment without economic growth?

The point I am making is that we should not think economic growth alone will solve all our problems. We are actually showing some economic growth - approximately 1% - but the majority of the population is witnessing a decline in living standards. An unbelievable number of young people are out of work. The fact that we have some economic growth, which is driven by multinationals that pay very little tax here, does not solve the problems of the people who live here. Does the Minister not agree with that? Too much of the Government's thinking is driven by the idea that it is all about money and not people. We are prepared to go to the ends of the earth, and the ends of human decency, to make those who cannot afford to do so pay what amounts to a paltry sum in the overall scheme of things. At the same time, billionaires and multinational corporations are remaining untouchable and doing as they please.

This is unbelievable stuff.

Our society has probably never been as unequal as it is today.

The austerity measures have added to that. It is unsustainable and it is not just here. In most of the developed world, the direction society is going is unsustainable. Those at the top are accumulating more wealth than they ever did - way more than they or generations after them could possibly dream of spending - and those at the bottom are in a more difficult place and life is getting tougher for them. I would love to see this Government introduce a serious drive towards tackling the level of inequality we have.

When the debate over the household charge was taking place, we held many public meetings. The thing that annoyed people the most was the level of inequality they were witnessing. They find it soul-destroying. Maybe I am living in a fantasy world but I believe a Government's priority should be to take the best care of those who most need its help. I do not believe this is happening. If the Minister was to try to argue that this is the case, he would find it difficult. This Government has made life very difficult for many people. The previous Government was no better. In February 2011, the people really thought they were voting for change but things have not changed for them. They are getting much the same style of government and cannot distinguish between this Government and the previous one in terms of how policies are implemented. It is little wonder that people are sick to the back teeth of politics and politicians. We are scorned, which is understandable because they do not believe anything we say any more. During the election in 2011, I really felt that people believed that they were at last getting rid of the previous Government. They made a huge mistake in 2007 by putting it back in because they were almost bribed to do so and they realised afterwards what a mistake it was. When it came to February 2011, they said "great, at last something different" but they got the same. I do not see any difference between them and neither do the people.

The Bill is obviously being presented by the Minister as a positive measure and a progressive move. That viewpoint was accepted by the spokespeople for the main Opposition parties. If one can end up in jail for not paying a fine, an alternative that involves not being in jail can sound progressive. It is reprehensible that people should end up in jail for this. However, this move would be supported by even the most devout advocates of law and order because on closer examination, it is not an humanitarian move. It is not even a change in social policy. This move is primarily an economic decision.

When one looks at the figures regarding the amount of people who spend time in jail for fine defaults, with over 8,000 people being jailed in 2012 representing a whopping 48% of all committals, one can see a very solid economic logic for why the State would move away from this. There was a 10% increase in committals for non-payment of fines last year so already there is a substantial problem in this regard. By removing the possibility of jail for non-payment of a fine, one could potentially almost halve one's prison intake overnight so in that sense, it is sensible economically.

However, there is much more to this than meets the eye and we must dig deeper. I would like the Minister to expand on and deal with some of the issues posed by Deputy Wallace. The issue here should not be about whether people should have fines deducted from their wages as an alternative to jail. The discussion should really be about whether it is appropriate to have monetary penalties or fines as a mechanism for dealing with breaking the law. Is it appropriate? Is it a deterrent? Does it reduce wrongdoing or does it make citizens behave better and correct them in their law-breaking? All of the evidence would say that it does not. It is a fundamentally wrong way of looking at it and sends a totally wrong signal. In essence, it is saying that if one is wealthy, one can buy one's way out of anything and the more money one has, the more wrongdoing one can carry out and the higher the fines one can pay but if one is poor, one will be penalised for that and the State will end up making one poorer. This is a Bill for the poor and people of limited means. In that sense, it is inherently discriminatory because if one is wealthy, this Bill will never apply to one because one has paid one's fine so they will not need to come in and deduct the money from one's wages. We need to take stock of the implications of that message to people.

In the majority of cases, fines are for road and traffic offences, theft and public order and drug offences. Relatively few fines would appear in the area of sexual assault but I want to use sexual assault as an example because it shows how inappropriate it is to put monetary penalties on crimes and because it demonstrates where this approach can lead. Deputies will be aware of the controversy surrounding Judge Desmond Hogan who suspended five and a half years of a six-year sentence given to an individual found guilty of rape. The judge controversially decided that the perpetrator of this appalling crime could get out of it if he paid his victim €75,000, something which was abhorrent to the victim and her family. Less than 12 months later, the same judge ordered another guilty party to pay €10,000 in compensation to a woman he was guilty of sexually assaulting. The message is that one is putting a monetary value on crime. It sends out a message that if one can afford to, one can get away with any violation one likes. In effect, a fines system does the same and penalises poorer people. A very significant number of fines are fines for poverty anyway. They relate to non-payment of the television licence, bus fares, credit cards and so on so inflicting and imposing a fine on somebody who is enduring economic hardship will only make their financial distress even worse and could bring about a scenario whereby the only way out of it is for them to engage in crime to get the money to pay the fine in the first place. This is lunacy.

Other Deputies have dealt with the fact that the Bill offers less flexibility in terms of the instalments system which, again, is a joke, particularly in this time of economic hardship. The instalment system would have to be flexible if it was really to take into account an individual's ability to pay and let us be clear, not just an individual but their family because there are other victims when the State imposes fines because further financial hardship is imposed on poorer families if the person is the breadwinner. We need to look at what has happened in that regard. There were 242 committals for fines relating to the non-payment of a television licence. Deputies will be aware of a recent controversy which hit the headlines regarding the case of John and Angela Young, an elderly retired couple who were brought before the court because they could not afford to buy a television licence and did not have one. That licence was subsequently paid for by a benefactor but because they had been to court and fined, they could not afford the fine so the gardaí ended up on their doorstop with a warrant for them. This was absolutely ludicrous. On the same weekend, there was a stabbing in the same area so the gardaí would have had better things to do. It is this type of lunacy that is at the root and heart of the fines system.

Even taking a cursory glance at what happens in the US shows that fining people for crime can spiral for people who cannot cope with the financial burden. There is much statistical analysis which means further penalties are imposed later on and in many cases, people end up in jail anyway because their debts run away with them and they cannot catch up.

There are many individual stories that I will not touch upon but they replicate and reflect the justice system which, in the United States, criminalises poverty. The director of the justice programme and centre of law in New York University notes that nationally this is a growing programme, in particular because of the economic crisis. There is no reason for it to be different in this country. Today, roughly one third of US states imprison people for not paying off their debts, in particular those related to court-related fines, fees and so on. The American Civil Liberties Association has pointed out that this is in contravention of the United States Supreme Court and of egalitarian principles. In addition, built into the system of many states is a scheme of what might be called "poverty penalties", extra fees for people who cannot afford to pay in the first place, with interest, etc, being charged. Alabama charges a 30% collection fee while Florida allows private debt collectors to go in and add 40% surcharge in pursuing court debt. This is reprehensible. There is the ridiculous situation in North Carolina whereby people are charged if they use a public defender so poor people who cannot afford such costs do not have any legal representation.

There is a clause in this Bill - which I find to be mad - which provides for a 10% administration charge for people who require to have the fee paid off in instalments. If one is poor where one cannot pay in full and is therefore required to pay in instalments, one is penalised with an extra charge of 10%. That is a joke, but not a very funny one. It highlights the fact that this could potentially be a money-making racket for the State, putting it in the role of a debt-collection agency rather than having the courts do what they should do, overseeing justice. To reiterate, these penalties penalise. When a person is fined his or her family is also fined. It is totally unfair for poor families with young children from deprived backgrounds, or people whose parents or brothers and sisters may have to help to find the money to pay the fine. This would not affect or impact upon wealthy citizens. We must take these measures into account.

There is an area that needs to be explored further because it is a dangerous measure, one this Government is getting very fond of using, namely, seeking to make deductions, or enabling the State to pass legislation to make deductions from people's wages. The Government made a great fist out of that in pursuit of the hated home tax and gave the State considerable powers in that regard. That legislation also provides for very substantial fines for people who do not comply with it. Again, this is ridiculous, proceeding along the lines that if people cannot afford to pay the State will fine them. Guess what - now they really cannot pay. The Government is giving powers to bodies to deduct from people's wages. I note that does not apply to the Minister's court fine legislation in respect of social welfare wages, which is a good thing because people on social welfare are already on the breadline. It raises issues, however, of confidentiality and privacy. I do not believe it is acceptable that employers should be aware their employee has a court fine. This is a breach of data protection and an interference that should not be tolerated. I agree with and echo the points made by Deputy Wallace in regard to some of the concerns about the newly enhanced bailiff's or sheriff's role. It is a little ironic that we are giving extra powers to the sheriff to pursue court fines when that officer has been to the forefront in recent tragic eviction cases, and when that whole area is under the spotlight.

People should not go to prison for not paying fines. We should not have that situation. As long as the Minister has a system that allows fines to be a method of punishment for law-breaking, inevitably people who are poor will end up in prison and people who are wealthy can buy their way out of it. That is not just, transparent or even. If the Minister wants to make people correct their behaviour everybody should be treated the same way, which means money must come out of the equation. If we say that, and say also that prison is not an option - as I believe it not to be - the best method of dealing with these offences is through the area of community service. Fines are completely wrong and allowing the Minister to deduct them from people's wages is not a progressive step. We would be far better served to look at the root causes for people being fined in the first place and the offences which lead them in this direction. Many relate to theft, poverty, drugs and so on. The Minister would be far better off tackling the root cause of these offences rather than bring in this double-standard legislation which favours the wealthy.

I call Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick, who is sharing time with Deputies Tony McLoughlin and Noel Harrington. The division is for two sets of five minutes and one of ten minutes.

The Fines Payment and Recovery Bill 2013 will give courts the ability to attach a fine to earnings and directly recover the fine from a person's pay cheque. Courts will have to consider the financial circumstances of an offender in determining the level of a fine. The Bill will also put in place a system of receivers who will seize and sell property in order to recover the value of a fine, as well as a sliding scale of sentences for those who cannot or will not pay a court order fine. Community service is to be considered ahead of imprisonment. The purpose of the Bill is to assist towards the means of paying fines and in extending the means for recovering unpaid fines. It proposes to amend the system of fines and complete the process started under the Fines Act 2010. That Act created a modern, standardised system where all fines fall into one of five distinct classes, depending on value. This should be easily adjustable over time. It was also designed to provide a more flexible system of payment and recovery of fines, and to provide for alternatives where a person cannot pay a fine. This Bill allows for attachment of fines to earnings so that a fine will come out of a person's wage. If a person fails to pay a fine within a year options can be enforced by the courts but only after he or she has been summoned to a court meeting to determine the appropriate court action. Such options should provide for a recovery order, an attachment order or community service before imprisonment is considered. If effective, the Bill should greatly reduce the number of persons imprisoned for non-payment of a fine, along with the associated costs, and should increase State revenue through greater collection rates for fines.

This Government is committed to keeping the number of people committed to prison for non-payment of fines to the absolute minimum. We are also determined to ensure that court decisions are respected and complied with. Allowing everybody to pay a fine by instalment and the introduction of attachment of earnings are important new reforms to the fine collection system and will lead to improved collection rates for fines. The most recent statistics on fines are from the Courts Service annual report 2012 which show that in 2012, €14.177 million was collected, with 29% of fines being paid on-line. The compliance rate was 82%.

The courts will take into account a person's financial circumstances when determining the level of a fine so that the effect of the fine on that person or on his or her dependants will not be made significantly more severe by reason of his or her financial circumstances. While this system has been used in the past, the Bill provides for a more detailed legislative system to be put in place in respect of how judges will determine these matters. Financial circumstances are defined by the amount of the person's annual income; the aggregate value of all property, real and personal, belonging to the person; the aggregate amount of all liabilities of the person, including any duty, moral or legal, to provide financially for members of his or her family, or other persons; the aggregate of all moneys owing to the person, the dates upon which these fall due for payment, the likelihood of their being paid; and such other circumstances as the court considers appropriate.

When the Bill is enacted it will be easier for people to pay a fine. If they fail to do so there will be sufficient alternatives available to the courts that will all but eliminate the necessity to commit any person to prison for the non-payment of fines. That option will, however, remain. The Bill also contains a number of administrative changes that will improve the capacity of the courts to ensure that fines are paid.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this important Bill introduced by the Minister for Justice and Equality. Since being appointed Minister, Deputy Shatter has brought some important Bills before us and has been the most reforming Minister to occupy this portfolio in a generation.

Since the intervention of the troika in our affairs, law reform in many areas such as personal insolvency was required to bring our legal system up to date and deal with the bust following the boom. This Bill is straightforward in many respects and aims to modernise our court fines system to allow the authorities to collect them and enforce them. The Bill is part of the programme for Government and I want to commend the Minister for fulfilling his legislative programme so far.

For those of us who often listen to RTE Radio 1 and the reports by Paddy O'Gorman from outside some of our courts, especially in the main urban areas, it is easy to understand why this legislation is long overdue. It would seem from Mr O'Gorman's reports that there is a large number of people who are fined in the District Court and are then before the judge again for non-payment. The contempt some of them have for the legal system is quiet amazing. They just seem to ignore it. Some prefer custodial sentences and have admitted to the reporter that they do not pay fines deliberately so that they can be committed for a week or a month.

Apart from the tragedy that is the reality that these people have so little in life that they seek admittance to a prison for comfort, it reinforces the view that the system of fines and enforcement requires a review. The main reforms as indicated are worthwhile and allow persons on whom a fine is imposed to be able to opt to pay the fine by instalments over 12 months.

If a person fails to pay a fine, the court may make an attachment order or a recovery order. In a case where it is not possible to make either order, the court may make a community service order. Failure to comply with an attachment order will attract on conviction a fine of up to €2,500, and-or up to 12 months in prison.

The Minister informs us that 8,300 people experienced prison on the basis of non-payment of fines last year. There has been a 25% increase in two years, which is unacceptable. This Bill, when enacted, will reduce this number on the basis of the above proposals and the fact the judge will take into account the ability of the defendants to pay. If a person fails to pay a fine in full, including the offer to pay by instalments, he or she will be required to return to court to explain themselves to the judge, and depending on the person's circumstances, the judge can place an attachment of earnings order, which has the result of deducting the fine from the person's earnings, and is a recovery order. In a case where a self-employed person is involved, a receiver can be appointed to recover assets to the value of the fine or a community service order. It is estimated that it costs in excess of €65,000 per year to accommodate the average low security prisoner. The jailing of small time offenders for non-payment of fines or minor offences is costing the State huge money that we can ill afford. Many groups, including the Irish Penal Reform Trust, have long campaigned against the jailing of people for the non-payment of fines, and argue that the figures show that the system held no fear for people who were clearly choosing a few hours in prison over paying a fine.

I wish to record my disappointment that the collection of fines or the placement of an attachment of earnings cannot be extended to social welfare recipients under this Bill. I understand that reports from the Department of Justice and Equality indicate that administration costs and payment limits meant it was not possible to deduct unpaid court fines from social welfare benefits. I would like the Minister to examine this again. There is a perception that the working person always gets hit and that some social welfare recipients can escape under the radar or the complications of paper work and administration. It was clear that many of those interviewed by Mr. O'Gorman outside the courthouses were on social welfare payments, had no notion of paying their fines and generally were fined for alcohol or substance abuse related incidents. Fines paid in these cases would mean less money for alcohol or drugs.

On the one hand it is clear that as a society we must do what we can to help these individuals who suffer from drug abuse or alcoholism, but is it right that they have no respect for the justice system and continue to abuse others and suffer no consequences to their State payments? Personally I do not agree and I urge the Government to consider this point in any future proposals on this issue.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The main provision of this Bill is to allow the courts - not the Government, the Dáil or any Department - to attach a fine handed down to the convicted person's pay cheque. Typically, that should be a wage. It will also provide more accountability to the fines process. We have listened for years about how we continue to incarcerate people for non-payment of fines. It is not appropriate. It is intolerable and in many cases it creates a liability to the State far in excess of the fine imposed. It may even surpass the financial impact of the initial offence for which the person is convicted in the first place. It simply should not be allowed to continue, and I believe that liberty should be taken from someone only as a last resort when the person is clearly a danger to the public or the crime is so grave that a strong fine is insufficient.

This Bill proposes to amend the fines system and complete a process that started with the Fines Act 2010. The imposition of a fine makes sense as appropriate for a variety of crimes committed. It still represents a punishment to the perpetrator and allows the State to recoup funds as a direct compensation as a result of the original crime. The imposition of a custodial sentence inevitably results in the State becoming exposed to inordinate costs and the prisons inevitably become overcrowded. This is just not appropriate. However, there was a difficulty with this system, which was the non-payment of fines. The previous speaker outlined how some people regard non-payment of fines as almost an investment. They will take the prison sentence, knowing full well that the revolving door system will have them out within a matter of hours. That simply just cannot continue.

This Bill and the Fines Act 2010 are significant legislation that change the way the courts deal with fines. These changes include the indexation of fines, the introduction of a five tier system, improved means of assessment, payment of fines by instalments and alternatives to prison where people default. The improved indexation and the introduction of the five classes of fines - from €5,000 to €500 - give the Judiciary discretion and this is appropriate. Indexing those fines is also a welcome development. It is possibly overemphasised in the media how somebody might be convicted and fined, but then the fine was based on outdated legislation and the fine bears no relation to the crime committed. It is welcome to link the fines to the consumer price index and make them real for the day the fine is imposed.

The assessment of a person's ability to pay a fine is extremely important in the case of imposing a financial liability on a person. It is appropriate to punish people and hit them in the pocket, if that is where it needs to be done, but it is not appropriate to impoverish people. It is not appropriate to impoverish their families or to hurt innocent people unduly, and I urge the courts to take that assessment into account.

However, it is appropriate that the person who committed the crime pay. If he or she must pay over an extended period, so be it.

This brings me to my next point on the instalment system. It is a welcome development.

As we have reached 7.30 p.m., I must apologise to the Deputy. I cannot manage the passing of time, only acknowledge it. The Deputy will be in possession for the resumption of the debate.

Debate adjourned.