HC Deb 19 January 2004 vol 416 cc1054-5W
Mr. Ben Chapman

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) what plans he has to impose automatic sentences on those who are overdue in paying fines by a set period; [147839]

(2) what plans he has to impose automatic sentences on those who persistently fail to pay fines imposed by magistrates courts. [147840]

Mr. Leslie

There are no automatic "sentences" for fines. However the Courts Act, 2003 provides a number of new arrangements to facilitate the enforcement of fines, including mandatory automatic attachment of earnings orders if the defendant is in employment, or deductions from social security benefits if they are not working which will be applied upon first default. The Act introduces "fines officers" (who will have delegated powers), an automatic increase (to a maximum 50 per cent. of the fine) for continued non-payment of the fine, and a range of new sanctions as further steps for non-payment. These include clamping the defaulter's car and registration of the fine in a new combined register of judgments and fines. There will also be new offences for not providing means information or for providing false information to the court or fines officer. The increase and new sanctions will be piloted in six local pilot areas in a phased rollout from 23 February 2004. The new mandatory application of the Attachment of Earnings Orders and Deductions from Benefits will be piloted nationwide, together with the rollout of the new offences for non-provision of means information from 5 April 2004. Where the court is satisfied that an offender is genuinely unable to pay a fine, schedule 6 of the Courts Act introduces the alternative new sentence of fines payment work, where an offender can work off the value of the fine through unpaid work. This new provision will also be piloted in selected local pilot areas from 5 April 2004.

Persistent offenders fined in the new fines collection scheme provided by schedule 5 of the Courts Act, 2003 will be deemed "existing defaulters" (defined in paragraph 3 of schedule 5) if they have already defaulted on previous fines payments. They will be subject to automatic mandatory attachment of earnings orders (if they are employed) or deductions from benefits (if they are in receipt of benefits) upon conviction. If they default on the current fine as well, they will be subject to an increase (up to a maximum of 50 per cent.) of the fine which will only be disapplied if they stick to the required payment terms for the life of the fine. These defaulters will then be subject to the same range of further steps as the new defaulters in question (1) above, with the ultimate threat of imprisonment for wilful non-payment of the fine.