Unpaid fines and reparation wiped or exchanged for community work or prison in Hawke's Bay courts has quadrupled over the past four years, rising from one to four million dollars.
Figures released to Hawke's Bay Today by the Ministry of Justice show remitted fines (meaning they were either wiped or exchanged for community work sentences) totalled $1 million in 2005-2006 but reached $4 million for the year July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009.
The figures come as the Government prepares to introduce the Court and Criminal Matters Bill to Parliament next month which seeks harsher penalties for fines dodgers, including suspension of driver's licences for unpaid traffic fines and reporting of unpaid fines to credit agencies.
The total amount of fines remitted in the past four years was more than $10 million.
Courts collect unpaid fines filed at court by prosecuting authorities, such as the police and local councils. After a fine is lodged at court an individual has 28 days to pay or enter into a payment arrangement otherwise the court takes enforcement action. Most of the remitted fines are for traffic offences.
The largest single fine and victim payment remitted was $37,726 in Napier. In this case no alternative sentence was imposed. The second highest fine remitted of $34,035 in Dannevirke was exchanged for 200 hours of community work and the third highest of $33,215 in Hastings was replaced with three months' imprisonment.
Collection general manager Bryre Patchell said while the percentage of fines that come to court and are remitted had increased from 5 to 18 per cent in four years, it was important to note not all the fines were overdue.
``The percentage of debt under payment arrangements has increased from 54 to 61 per cent over the same period and the percentage of the total debt that is overdue has also decreased from 32 to 25 per cent over the same period.''
The court used ``all means available'' including clamping vehicles and seizing assets to collect fines and only takes enforcement action if people do not pay.
``If enforcement action has failed and further enforcement action is unlikely to result in payment, a judge may consider replacing unpaid fines with an alternative sentence such as community work,'' Mr Patchell said.
The value of fines collected has increased for each of the past four years. In 2005/06 in was $206.9 million rising to $240.4 million in 2008/09.
Hawke's Bay-based Labour list MP Rick Barker, the former Courts Minister, said the system needed a ``better structure''.
He said there were a myriad of agencies collecting fines and he wanted one overarching structure which could identify problems earlier. ``What should have been done is making payment easier, simpler (sic), and offering people opportunities to pay.''
But Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar said offenders should be placed in custody until reparation orders were paid.