Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Questions (562)

John McGuinness


562. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the cost to the State of imprisoning persons who fail to pay fines imposed by the courts; the number of such cases in the past three years; if an easy payment system will be put in place to accommodate those that simply cannot pay; if consideration has been given to this matter; if so, if he will outline the action he intends to take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31726/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 541 on Tuesday, 28th May, 2013 a copy of which follows. By way of update, the legislation for payment and recovery of fines now known as the Fines Payment and Recovery Bill will be published shortly.

I can inform the Deputy that the number of committals to prison for non-payment of a court order fine in 2012 was 8,304. The corresponding figures for 2011 and 2010 were 7,514 and 6,683 respectively. Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide the cost for each case as this would necessitate a manual search of each record and would require a disproportionate and inordinate amount of staff time and effort which could not be justified where there are other significant demands on resources.

It should be noted that the number of persons imprisoned at any time for non-payment of fines constitutes an extremely small part of the prisoner population. To illustrate this point, there were 16 persons in custody on 27 May, 2013 for non-payment of a fine out of a total prison population of 4,245.

I am committed to pursuing alternatives to custody. I am strongly of the view that we need to keep the numbers of people committed to prison for the non-payment of fines to the absolute minimum.

I have already legislated to require judges to take a person’s financial circumstances into account when setting a fine. Work is now well underway on further major reforms to the fine payment and recovery system in Ireland. The Fines (Amendment) Bill, which I expect to publish this term will, when enacted, make it easier for people to pay a fine and where they fail to do so, there will be sufficient options available to the courts in the form of, for example, attachment of earnings, community service, or recovery orders. I believe these measures, taken together, will substantially reduce the incidence of committal to prison for the non-payment of fines.