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Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill 2013 - Committee Stage

22nd January 2014

The Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill 2013 is scheduled to return to Dáil Éireann at Committee Stage on Wednesday 22nd January 2014. A number of amendments have been tabled for consideration by the Committee.

IPRT broadly welcomes the intention of the 2013 Bill – which is to reduce the number of people imprisoned for fine default. However, we believe that a number of amendments are necessary for the legislation to achieve its purpose, which is to end the costly and damaging practice of imprisonment for fines default.

There were 8,304 committals to prison for fines default in 2012 – including 1,687 female committals; the number of women committed to prison in 2012 for fines default (1,687) represented a five-fold increase on 2008, when 339 women were imprisoned for fines default.

IPRT has previously issued recommendations in relation to the earlier legislation (Fines Act 2010), and also the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill 2013, including the following:

  1. The 2013 Bill provides that instalments must be paid over a period of 12 months, where the Fines Act 2010 had allowed greater flexibility with instalments over 24 months in some cases. IPRT recommends that the courts should be able to extend the period of instalments, in the interests of fairness and taking into account ability to pay, and that the approach taken in section 15 in the Fines Act 2010 (where instalments could be extended over 24 months) be retained in the current Bill.
  2. The 2013 Bill provides for an administration charge of up to 10% on persons paying a fine by instalments. 
    In relation to larger fines we do not believe that a 10% charge can be justified in all cases. It may be preferable to set a flat administration fee or to cap the administration fee.
  3. The 2013 Bill provides that the instalment option will not apply to fines over the level of €100. 
    IPRT believes that even €100 may be a significant amounts of money for families in the current economic climate, and we recommend that the limit (€100) below which a fine cannot be paid in instalments should be removed.
  4. IPRT also has some concerns about the use of community service as a stage in the process proposed under section 7 of the Bill. While there are useful safeguards against the automatic use of a CSO included in the legislation, its inclusion as a stage in the proposed process in the proposed Bill could have a “net-widening” effect. The use of CSOs for the non-payment of fines may reduce the judiciary’s confidence in the interchangeability and equivalence of CSOs with custodial sentences of up to twelve months, therefore decreasing their use as set out in the Criminal justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011. IPRT believes that consideration should be given to clarifying that the use of a CSO under section 7 of the proposed Bill is distinct from the use of a CSO under the 1983 Act.

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For more information or comment, contact Fíona on 087-181 2990