$5m worth of fines erased

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Northland offenders had more than $5 million in outstanding fines wiped last year, new Ministry of Justice figures reveal.

The largest amount of fines remitted from a single Northland offender since 2010 was in Kaihohe, where $78,840 was wiped for outstanding littering, vehicle-related and traffic offence fines.

The fines were replaced with home detention.

Whangarei criminal defence lawyer David Sayes said fines were often substituted with community work as "you can't get blood out of a stone".

"You can order people to pay as much money as you like, but if they don't have it, they don't have it."

Remittals in place of community work in Northland were almost a daily occurrence, Mr Sayes said.

Most of the community sentences were carried out in full because if they weren't, the offenders were sent to prison, NZ offenders owe $575.9m in fines

thanks to a strict, unified response from Northland District Court judges.

In June 2012, Northland man Joel Kingi had $15,972 of unpaid fines wiped and replaced with an additional three weeks on his seven-month home detention sentence for possession of methamphetamine for supply.

The remittal was the equivalent of $133 an hour - or more than $5000 a week.

Over $91 million in outstanding fines was wiped for more than 83,000 offenders 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 $575.91 million 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 was generally at a judge's discretion when attempts to enforce fines or reparation had 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.

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

Remittals were also frequently used 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 $250 million in fines and reparation was collected every year on behalf of victims, local authorities and agencies such as police. About 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 that the judge - his word has got to be law."

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.

- Northern Advocate

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