Fine system doing fine says courts chief

COURTS officials today hit back at claims they are not doing enough to recoup money owed by criminals.On Friday the Evening Star revealed how Suffolk's courts are owed more than £3.

COURTS officials today hit back at claims they are not doing enough to recoup money owed by criminals.

On Friday the Evening Star revealed how Suffolk's courts are owed more than £3.5 million in fines.

But the chief executive of Suffolk's magistrates' courts committee John Rodley said courts are doing all they can to recover the money and have been making significant progress.

Mr Rodley said: "We are aware we could do better but we're not doing badly at the moment.

"All those involved with collection in Suffolk are working very hard.

"In the past three years the amount of debts owed to Suffolk's courts has decreased by 19 per cent.

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"With all fines issued by magistrates courts the aim is for the criminal to pay it off within a year.

"In the last quarter of this year 73.5pc of people in Suffolk achieved this.

"And of the 27pc that are in arrears, many of these may only be a week or two late with their payments."

Mr Rodley dispelled the myth that many people will end up escaping their fines all together.

He said fines would be written off in exceptional cases when people disappeared, but would soon be 'written back' if they resurfaced,

Fines can also be scrapped if the money outstanding is so minimal it is outweighed by the cost of administration.

Mr Rodley said: "This only happens in an extremely small number of cases where the amount is something like £10 or less.

"Generally, if people have made the effort to pay that much off, then they wouldn't bother leaving anything.

"It usually only occurs on fines that have been inherited throughout the years."

Every year, Suffolk's magistrates courts recover almost £2.2m in fines and less than 10pc of debts were written off in the last few months.

Mr Rodley said the fine collection was topped the agenda and it is constantly trying to improve the service.

He highlighted the introduction of a 'fines clinic' at Ipswich magistrates court, which allows people to come in and talk about difficulties with paying fines.

A new government Courts Bill could also help by installing fines officers across the country.

They would have the power to enforce collection in a variety of ways without needing a court hearing.

Offenders could have fines docked from pay packets or, in some cases, have vehicles clamped and taken.

Six 'trial' officers are currently in place and, if successful, the scheme will be taken up nationwide.

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