Outrage at unpaid fines Opposition MSPs last week demanded action after it was revealed that almost £10m of fines dished out by Scottish courts have gone unpaid.
Reports stated many of the unpaid penalties date back three years – in 20,000 cases no payments were made at all.
Opposition parties said it is a “slap in the face” for victims of crime and have urged the Scottish Government to crack down on offenders who avoid paying financial penalties.
According to court service figures, a total of £64.6m in fines have been handed out by the country’s sheriff and justice of the peace courts since 2008. Of these, £9.7m is currently in arrears, with 22,680 cases where convicts have failed to make any payment at all.
David McLetchie, the Conservative justice spokesman, said “greater efforts must go into the collection of these fines and to enforce the punishment handed down by the court,” while his Liberal Democrat counterpart, Alison McInnes, said the figures “sends out a wrong message to wouldbe criminals”.
Labour justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald said he was “staggered” by the figures.
“Since the SNP scrapped short prison sentences, too many offenders now seem to see paying fines as a matter of choice,” he said. “The number of offenders dodging fines is getting out of hand.
Fines have a role to play in minor crimes, but the sheer number of offenders not paying a single penny of their fines is a slap in the face for victims of crime.” The opposition reaction is not surprising. What is, however, is perhaps the extent to which Scottish courts are continuing to impose financial penalties.
A report published in 2005 by former prison governor Professor Roger Houchin pointed out that a quarter of all inmates in Scotland’s jails came from just 53 council wards, most of which were in the poorer areas of Glasgow.
Houchin looked at how many people had been sent to jail from each of Scotland’s local authority wards. Half of those in jail came from the poorest 155 wards. Of the 53 council wards, 35 of those were in Glasgow, where Royston topped the league.
Of course not every person who breaks the law is poor, but a ridiculously high percentage of those who do in Scotland are. You don’t have to spend too long in a Scottish courtroom to see how financial penalties being handed down to some offenders seem utterly pointless, in some cases asking people to pay as little as £2.50 per month towards a £50 fine.
Financial penalties may indeed be sufficient in many criminal cases, but demanding people with no money pay fines may seem like a plan doomed to fail.