Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Questions (225)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

225. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason persons are still being imprisoned for non-payment of fines; the reason their fines are not being deducted at source by either the Revenue Commissioners or the Department of Social Protection; and the way he intends to end the situation where significant numbers of prison places are taken up by fine-defaulters. [10467/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

There is no legislative provision for the deduction of fines either by the Revenue Commissioners or the Department of Social Protection, nor does the Government have any plans to legislate to allow for such deductions to be made.

Instead, as the Deputy will be aware, the Government recently approved the drafting of the Fines (Amendment) Bill 2012, the Scheme of which is available on my Department's website (www.justice.ie). The Scheme provides, inter alia, for the introduction of attachment of earnings to recover unpaid fines from a person's earnings. The Scheme also recasts a number of the key provisions in the Fines Act 2010, including those relating to the payment of fines by instalments (section 15). Whereas under the 2010 Act, a person had to apply to the court to be permitted to pay a fine by instalments, the Scheme provides that this will become an automatic right. Given this significant change to the nature and scope of the instalment provisions in the Act, it is not my intention to commence section 15 until after it has been amended. I hope that it will be possible to enact the Fines (Amendment) Bill during 2013.

I can also advise the Deputy that the number of persons in custody at any one time for non payment of fines is but a fraction of the overall prisoner population. To illustrate this point, on 25 February 2013, 22 people (0.05%), out of a prison population of 4,261 in custody that day fell into this category.

I am also committed to pursuing alternatives to custody. The Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011 requires judges when considering imposing a sentence of imprisonment of 12 months or less to first consider the appropriateness of community service as an alternative to imprisonment. It is expected that these measures, taken together, will all but eliminate the need to commit persons to prison for non-payment of fines.