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IPRT welcomes commencement of fines legislation

11th January 2016

MEDIA ADVISORY

IPRT welcomes commencement of legislation to address “damaging and wasteful” practice of imprisonment for fines default

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) strongly welcomes the commencement today (Monday 11 January 2016) by Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald TD of the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014, including the introduction of the facility to pay court-ordered fines by instalment, more than 5 years after it was first included in the Fines Act 2010.

IPRT particularly welcomes that imprisonment will be a sanction of “last resort” for fines default, used only when other sanctions have failed.

IPRT has campaigned strenuously for an end to the damaging and wasteful practice of imprisonment for fines default for many years. Imprisonment for fines default represents a completely ineffective use of Garda, Courts and Irish Prison Service time and resources. In 2014, over 55% (8,979) of total committals to prison in Ireland were for fines default. Of these, over 25% (2,334) were female – a practice which can be traumatic to families, children and dependent relatives.

Responding today, IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:

This is a victory for common sense: imprisoning people for failure to pay court ordered fines is not only socially damaging, it creates an illogical and additional burden on an already strained prison system. Ending the practice of imprisonment for failure to pay fines will reduce unnecessary and damaging committals to prison, as well as saving the taxpayer money.”

A commitment to ending the practice of imprisonment for fines default was a key inclusion in the Programme for Government, alongside ending imprisonment of children in St Patrick’s Institution.

While strongly welcoming the commencement of the Act, IPRT previously raised issues with the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 during its progression through the Oireachtas:

  • IPRT welcomes that a person’s ability to pay a fine is now taken into account when the Court is setting the level of that fine.
  • However, the instalment option does not apply to fines over the level of €100. Even €100 may be a significant amount of money for families in the current economic climate, and IPRT believes that the limit (100 euro) below which a fine cannot be paid in instalments should be removed.
  • Instalments must be paid over a period of 12 months. IPRT was disappointed that a provision in the Fines Act 2010, which had allowed greater flexibility with instalments to be repaid over 24 months in some cases, was not retained in the 2014 Act.
  • IPRT accepts that an administration fee may be necessary, but in relation to larger fines we do not believe that a 10% charge can be justified in all cases, and that the administration fee should be capped.

For further comment from IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone, please contact Fíona on: 087 181 2990

NOTES:

1. Over 55% of the total committals to prison in 2014 were for fines default: 8,979 committals out of a total 16,155 committals (Source: Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2014).

2. Imprisonment for fines 2007-14:

Year       Fines    

2014      8,979; of these, 2,334 were female committals

2013      8,121; of these, 1,894 were female committals

2012      8,304

2011      7,514    

2010      6,683    

2009      4,806      

2008      2,520    

2007      1,335; of these, 163 were female committals

(Source: Irish Prison Service Annual Reports 2007-2014)

3. People imprisoned for fines default are twice as likely to return to prison than other categories of prisoner: 85.4% compared with a general average of 42%.

(Source: O’Donnell, Palmer and Hughes (2008) ‘Recidivism in the Republic of Ireland’ in Criminology and Criminal Justice, 8(2))

4. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | www.iprt.ie

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.