| 12.3°C Dublin

Outcry as 7,000 jailed this year for not paying fines

ALMOST 7,000 people have been jailed this year for failing to pay fines -- the highest figure in years.

It comes despite the introduction of new laws aimed at preventing the jailing of fine defaulters.

The 6,969 jailed this year represent a 500pc increase on the numbers fined in 2007, with calls being made today on the Justice Minister to show "greater flexibility".

The Fines Act -- passed last year -- was aimed at reducing the numbers jailed for failure to pay fines.

However a key part of the act, which facilitates payment by instalment, has not been implemented due to a lack of funding needed to update the computer system operated by the Courts Service. Justice Minister Alan Shatter announced the provision of €400,000 for this area in Budget 2012.

According to the Courts Service, the upgrading of the computer system will take up to 12 months.

Mr Shatter stated that the imprisonment of fine defaulters would be eliminated once all the measures contained in the act are implemented.


"I expect that these measures, taken together, will all but eliminate the need to commit persons to prison for non-payment of fines."

However The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) expressed alarm at the figures, adding that the imprisonment of fine defaulters is costing the State more money than it is saving.

IPRT executive director Liam Herrick said: "IPRT is calling on all agencies to work together and review how they operate the current system to see whether there can be greater flexibility around the payment of fines in the interim period.

"While it's up to the agencies themselves to come up with practical solutions, one solution might be if judges could find ways for administering the payment of fines without prescribing automatic penalties of imprisonment for non-payment."

Mr Herrick added: "The minister has committed to making funds available in 2012 to upgrade the courts' ICT system to facilitate payment of fines by instalment, and he has stated that it will take 12 months to complete the work.

"In the meantime, thousands continue to be imprisoned every year -- at great cost to the State -- and the issue remains urgent.

"The minister could review the possibility of remitting some categories of fines as an exceptional measure."