135. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on recent reports that the courts fines system is dysfunctional with large numbers of fines and bench warrants not being implemented during his period as Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24502/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 commenced on 11 January 2016. Its primary purpose was to provide for alternatives to imprisonment for non-payment of fines including attachment of earnings, community service and debt recovery proceedings. The fines system is administered by the Courts Service. I am aware of some enforcement challenges that have arisen in the administration of the Act. Much of the enforcement challenge concerns the low appearance rate of convicted persons at enforcement hearings under section 7 of the Act when they are notified to attend following default of payment.
In response to this, I have authorised a review of the terms, operation and enforcement of fines by a High Level Working Group, which met for the first time last month. The Group comprises representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality, the Attorney General’s Office, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Courts Service, An Garda Siochana, the Irish Prisons Service and the Probation and Welfare Service.
The purpose of the group is to bring the expertise of all of the relevant stakeholders together so as to determine the most effective way of ensuring that the policy of minimal committals is preserved to the extent possible, while maximising the effectiveness of the alternative sanctions available to the courts in cases of default and to ensure that the integrity of the criminal justice process at this level is maintained and enhanced.
It should be noted that the majority of people continue to pay fines properly imposed by the Courts. Therefore the attention of the High Level Working Group is to focus on the smaller number of people who do not pay fines in a timely fashion, and devising efficient means to minimise that.
Any changes deemed necessary, including legislative change, will be pursued when the High Level Working Group reports.