Courts wipe millions in fines

By Brendan Manning

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Tauranga criminals had more than $3million in outstanding fines wiped last year by the courts, new Ministry of Justice figures reveal.

The largest amount wiped from a single offender in the region since 2010 was $131,757 - for breaching the Fair Trading Act.

The fines were remitted due to the unidentified company being in liquidation.

Papamoa lawyer Tony Rickard-Simms said he tried to get his clients' fines replaced by community work almost daily.

"They might as well be working. The victim's [offender levy] of $50 is not included, no reparation to any victims is included, it's only driving without a licence and parking fines and things like that - and they go out and work for it, so yeah, why not?"

Nearly 7000 Tauranga offenders had fines wiped in the last three years, amounting to more than $12.5million.

More than $91million in outstanding fines was wiped for more than 83,000 criminals nationwide last year, and sentences replaced with imprisonment, community sentences, or wiped completely due to death and company liquidations.

Figures released under the Official Information Act show $575.91million was owing in outstanding fines and reparation at the start of this year.

The highest remittal since 2010 was in Christchurch where one offender had $294,491 remitted for breaching the Tax Administration Act and a vehicle offence.

Remitting fines is at a judge's discretion when attempts to enforce fines or reparation have failed. Enforcement action over unpaid fines could include clamping vehicles, seizing and selling property, making compulsory deductions from a person's income or bank account, issuing arrest warrants and preventing international travel.

Registrars also have the discretion to remit court costs and enforcement fees to encourage people to pay the original fines, and to remit small outstanding balances of less than $5.

Over the past three years, 43.4 per cent of remittals nationally were for unpaid enforcement fees or court costs.

Remittals were also used frequently when a victim had received reparation directly and the court needed to correct its records.

Ministry of Justice deputy secretary legal and operational services spokesman Nigel Fyfe said just under $250million in fines and reparation was collected every year on behalf of victims, local authorities, agencies and police.

Around 90 per cent of the money was for traffic-related offences, he said.

At the end of last year, 43.2 per cent of fines were overdue, down from 58 per cent five years ago.

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar said offenders who refused to pay fines were "giving their fingers to the system, getting away with it and laughing their way to the bank".

"At what point are we going to say, 'Enough is enough'? At what point are we going to say the judge's word has got to be law."

Mr McVicar suggested an alternate solution adopted by Canada whereby offenders were sent to work on a working farm if they could not pay fines.

During the past three years, nearly half of fines remitted were converted into an alternative sentence - 39.4 per cent for community work, 3.8 per cent for imprisonment, 3.7 per cent for community detention and 0.8 per cent for home detention.

Information sharing with credit reporting agencies and data matching with Inland Revenue and Social Development resulted in $63.75million being collected last year.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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