IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Law Reform Commission: Debt should not lead to prison

22nd September 2009

The Law Reform Commission (LRC) has recommended that people who genuinely cannot pay personal debts should not be sent to prison, in a consultation paper published today.

In the Consultation Paper on Personal Debt Management and Debt Enforcement, the LRC recommends an end to the use of imprisonment for debt, and proposes alternative measures to address personal debt at an early stage, along with non-judicial debt settlement procedures and the redrafting of the law on debt enforcement.

The consultation paper recommends that the law should make the distinction between debtors who cannot pay and those who will not pay, citing international studies which have found that the latter group number only about one in 20 of people who get into difficulties with debt.

In 2008, 276 people were imprisoned in relation to the non-payment of a civil debt. (It should also be noted that over 2,500 people received prison sentences in 2008 for failure to pay a court-ordered fine - a rise of 88% on the previous year.)

Imprisonment for debt constitutes a violation of international human rights law and IPRT is committed to working with our colleagues at FLAC and in other civil society organisations to campaign for an end to this practice. At a time of chronic prison overcrowding, the detention of persons who have not committed crimes is clearly counter-productive. The proposals in this consultation paper demonstrate that alternatives are available, that would ensure the proper administration of credit, while ensuring that imprisonment is reserved as a measure of last resort for serious offenders.

Find out more:

Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, President of the Law Reform Commission, tells Morning Ireland that those who genuinely cannot pay should not be be sent to prison.

Carol Coulter details the findings of the Law Reform Commission in The Irish Times.

Dearbhail McDonald reports that the Law Reform Commission recoemmends that detention, and court, should be a last resort in the Irish Independent.

Learn more