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MEDIA ADVISORY: IPRT welcomes passing of Community Service Order legislation

28th July 2011

MEDIA ADVISORY 

IPRT hails Community Service legislation as progressive and necessary, but remains concerned about failure to fully implement Fines Act 2010 

The Irish Penal Reform Trust has today hailed the passing of the Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2011 through both Houses of the Oireachtas as progressive and necessary. Since its establishment in 1994, IPRT has consistently called for a greater use of community sanctions as a more appropriate, cost effective and less damaging response to less serious offences. The passing of this Bill brings IPRT's vision of a penal system where imprisonment is used only as a last resort closer to reality.

The Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2011 requires the courts to consider imposing a community service order for those offences where it would otherwise be appropriate to sentence the offender to imprisonment for a period of up to twelve months. IPRT particularly welcomes the statement by the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter (Seanad debate, 27 July 2011) that these provisions will come into force in September 2011.

However, IPRT remains very concerned that the Fines Act 2010 has not yet been fully implemented more than a year after it was signed into law. In effect, thousands continue to be imprisoned for failure to pay court-ordered fines while the Courts Service ICT system awaits the necessary upgrade to facilitate payment of fines by instalment. 6,681 people were imprisoned for failure to pay fines in 2010, the year the Fines Act was passed, and numbers continue to rocket in 2011.

Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director, Liam Herrick said:

“The passing of this legislation is a very positive step towards the use of imprisonment as a last resort, and it should be acknowledged that in setting the limit at sentences of 12 months or less, Ireland will be viewed internationally as taking a bold and progressive step. It is particularly significant that the Bill received support from all parties, demonstrating the widespread recognition and support of penal reform as necessary, urgent and common sense.

“However, the big issue remains that thousands of people continue to be imprisoned for failure to pay fines because the Fines Act 2010 is not yet fully implemented to allow payment by instalment, more than a year after it was signed into law. While the reality is that these people are not held in prison for long, it represents a pointless drain on scarce resources in terms of Courts, Garda, Prison Service and administration costs.”

On the passing of the Bill, the Irish Penal Reform Trust is calling on Government to:

  • Monitor the extent to which the scheme is being uniformly applied across the Courts, in particular the District Courts, on a national basis.
  • Ensure Community Service Orders are used only where the individual would otherwise receive a custodial sentence, and not to draw more people into the criminal justice system.
  • Ensure that the Probation Service continues to be adequately resourced to support this welcome step.
  • Ensure that the Fines Act 2010 is fully implemented and the necessary Courts Service ICT systems installed with urgency

IPRT has consistently called for a greater use of community sanctions in dealing with less serious offences. The fact that offenders remain in work or education, retain links with families and communities, as well as making reparation to the victims and communities affected by their offending behaviour, is all of far greater benefit to society than imprisonment, which should be reserved for the most serious of offences.

For more information or media enquiries, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Campaigns & Communications Officer, Irish Penal Reform Trust

T: + 353 1 874 1400E: communications@iprt.ie

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2011

The Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Bill 2011 passed both Houses of the Oireachtas on 27th July 2011. The legislationrequires judges to consider community service for offences which would normally receive a custodial sentence of 12 months or less. The Dept of Justice and Law Reform has projected savings of €14m to €17m, not including the financial value of the work carried out in the community.

2. IPRT Position Paper 8: Community Sanctions

IPRT published a position paper on Community Sanctions in January 2010, available here: http://www.iprt.ie/contents/1555

3. Fines Act 2010

President McAleese signed the Fines Bill 2009 into law on 2nd June 2010. Section 15, which allows for the payment by instalment of a fine over a 12-month period (and, exceptionally, over a 2 year period) has not yet been commenced. The Courts Service ICT system has been cited as the reason. Section 14 of the Act has however been commenced with effect from 4 January, 2011. This requires the court to take into account the person’s financial circumstances before determining the amount of the fine, if any, to be imposed.

4. Imprisonment for fines 2007-2010

Year       Fines     Debts

  • 2010*    6,681     5
  • 2009       4,806     162
  • 2008       2,520     255
  • 2007       1,335     201

*2010 figures provided by the Irish Prison Service, are provisional. (Dáil Question, 1st Feb 2011:http://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2011-02-01.272.0)

5. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT)

IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort: www.iprt.ie

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