Amy McGillivray

Amy is the lifestyles reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

$22m of fines wiped by court (+poll)

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More than $22 million in fines has been wiped by the Tauranga District Court in the last five years - reigniting calls for a tougher court system.

About $64 million worth of fines were issued in the Tauranga region between 2008 and 2012 but Tauranga District Court wiped more than a third.

Alternative sentences such as community work, home detention or imprisonment were handed down in place of $14.7 million of fines but almost $7.5 million was written off without substitute. Tauranga Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Ken Evans told the Bay of Plenty Times it was "absolutely outrageous".

"The message that sends is, 'our courts are soft'. So that message turns into, 'let's cause some more crime because we can get away with it'," he said. "That is just not acceptable. No wonder we've got runaway crime in this country."

It was a waste of police and court time if the original fines imposed were written off, he said.

Ministry of Justice legal and operational services deputy secretary Nigel Fyfe said full payment of fines was always sought in the first instance. Enforcement such as clamping vehicles, seizing and selling property, making compulsory deductions from a person's bank account, issuing arrest warrants and limiting a person's international travel were used where necessary, he said.

But in some instances, wiping the fine or replacing it with an alternative sentence was considered most appropriate, Mr Fyfe said. This could happen when a person died, a company was in liquidation or when a deputy registrar decided to write off a small outstanding balance less than $5. Registrars could also waive court costs and enforcement fees to encourage payment of the original fine.

Almost 54 per cent of the 86,182 fines wiped during the past five years were replaced with an alternative sentence, in line with the national average. Courts Minister Chester Borrows said he was not surprised by the figures but did not accept that the courts were getting softer. "Yes, it appears to be quite a large number in terms of total fines issued," he said. "It's not uncommon for that to happen."

Fines were often issued during a first court appearance but replaced with a community-based sentence, such as home detention or community work, on the second, he said. Reparation payments were never waived. "It looks like someone's getting an easy track but that's not so. The fines aren't written off. Someone has to do something to make up for that fine."

The fact the total amount of remitted fines was falling proved the courts were getting tougher, he said. Amendments to the Summary Proceedings Act, passed in 2011, meant overdue fines or reparations could now affect a person's ability to gain credit. Further changes are also planned, including the ability to suspend drivers' licences for unpaid traffic-related fines or reparation.


 

- Bay of Plenty Times

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