People unable to pay court fines to escape jail
PEOPLE not able to pay court fines will be spared jail under new proposals to spread the payment.
More than 8,300 people were sent to prison last year for not paying court imposed penalties for offences such as traffic incidents or not having a television licence.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter has announced new legislation to reform the system by letting people pay in instalments over a year.
Anyone who fails to settle the full amount faces another fine of up to 2,500 euro and/or up to 12 months in prison, he warned.
Mr Shatter said the Government is committed to keeping the numbers of people committed to prison for the non-payment of fines to the absolute minimum.
"We are also determined to ensure court decisions are respected and complied with," he said.
"Allowing everyone to pay a fine by instalment and introducing attachment of earnings are important new reforms to the fine collection system which will lead to improved collection rates for fines."
Judges and prison chiefs have called for reform to keep people out of overcrowding jails.
Figures show that one day last month 0.4% of the prison population - 16 people out of 4,245 - were there for the non-payment of fines.
The minister wants the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill to be enacted before the end of the year and to be operational in 2014, when computer systems in the courts services are upgraded.
It will allow people to opt to pay a fine in one go or by instalments over 12 months, where an administration fee of up to 10% may be imposed.
Anyone who does not pay up will be called back to court where an order will be made to take the money from a person's earnings or be sentenced to community service or jail.
The Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Social Protection and the Courts Service will also be able to share information under the legislation.
Mr Shatter said the majority of people jailed for the non-payment of fines are handed short sentences.
"When this bill is enacted, it will be easier for people to pay a fine and where they fail to do so, there will be sufficient alternatives available to the courts to all but eliminate the need to commit anyone to prison for the non-payment of fines," Mr Shatter added.