The Fines Bill 2009 has been passed in the Dáil.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust believes that this legislation is extremely significant and should be passed with urgency, pending a number of critical amendments, as detailed below.
The continuing rise in the number of people being imprisoned in Ireland for failure to pay fines in recent years is of serious concern. Figures, as reported in Parliamentary Questions, reveal that the total number of committals for non-payment of court-ordered fines:
- 2009: 3,366 (to end October 2009)
- 2008: 2,520 (an 88.7% increase on 2007)
- 2007: 1,335
Over 85% of those who are imprisoned for non-payment of fines return to prison within 4 years.*
Meanwhile, chronic overcrowding - and consequent breaches of human rights - persists in Irish prisons, with numbers rising by 11-13% per year, every year.
In this context, the Irish Penal Reform Trust very much welcomes the Fines Bill 2009. However, we believe that the legislation as currently stands does not provide a system in which imprisonment is only ever used as a measure of last resort in relation to fine default. Some changes still need to be introduced before it is enacted into law. These are outlined below:
Detailed comments on Sections where amendments are needed:
- Section 12(b) – where the aggregate value of all property (real and personal) is to be taken into consideration, the estimated value of property in particular should be assessed together with the potential for sale in the prevailing real estate market.
- Section 13(3) – the power to impose a fine greater than what would be reasonable in the circumstances of the defendant and his or her family/dependants should be limited to exceptional cases and an explanation of why such sanction was decided upon should be provided in Court.
- Section 14 – IPRT generally welcomes the introduction of payment by installments; the limit of one year from the imposition of fine (two years on application) should, however, be made more flexible to enable Courts to take into consideration individual circumstances of the defendant.
- Section 14(6) currently reads as though there will be a possibility of imposing imprisonment for default on one installment only; for the Bill to make the principle of imprisonment as a last resort in cases of non-payment of fines a reality, reasons for default should be sought in the first instance; a flexible system should allow for payment of that installment with the next one if financial circumstances of an individual are such that such flexibility would allow the payment of fine.
- Section 14(7) - The limit (€100) below which a fine cannot be paid in installments should be removed.
- Section 17 – this section should be made stronger by stating that the Court ‘shall’ (rather than ‘may’ as it currently stands) make an order for a Community Service Order (CSO) in cases of non-payment of fines. Imprisonment should be a sanction of a last resort; the Bill should therefore be amended to make a CSO a default sanction upon fine default. Sections 17(2) and 17(3) should be amended accordingly. The Bill, as currently drafted, states that the power to make a CSO is not impairing the power of the court to imprison upon default; this should be removed.
* Ian O'Donnell, Eric P.Baumer and Nicola Hughes (2008) 'Recidivism in the Republic of Ireland'. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 8 (2):123-146.
For more information, please contact Agnieszka Martynowicz, IPRT Research & Policy Officer, at: firstname.lastname@example.org