§ Lord Hylton
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What progress is being made in introducing non-custodial sentences for fine-defaulters in (a) England and Wales; (b) Scotland; and (c) Northern Ireland.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
In England and Wales the Criminal Justice Act 1991 introduced a new system of assessing fines which provides the courts with a straightforward mechanism for relating a fine to the offender's ability to pay. The Act also gives courts a new power to make deductions from income support. These powers will help to ensure that imprisonment for default is restricted to those who have no excuse not to pay.
In Scotland, the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990 introduced the possibility of a new disposal in the form of a Supervised Attendance Order, under which a court may, with the consent of the offender, order a fine defaulter to undertake between 10 and 60 hours supervised attendance as an alternative to custody. Three such schemes have been introduced on a pilot basis. Early indications suggest that this disposal is working well, although further pilot schemes may be introduced to inform any decision about more widespread implementation.
Although the Criminal Justice Act 1991 does not extend to Northern Ireland, legislation is presently in preparation to introduce unit fines there.
In all three jurisdictions, courts must first have considered or tried all other available methods of enforcing payment before committing a defaulter to prison. There are no plans to remove imprisonment as the final decision sanction against defaulters who have wilfully refused or culpably failed to respond to all other attempts at enforcement.