Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of prisoners who were brought to prison, on foot of committal orders, for non-payment of fines, on 18 February 2015, and later released, or placed on temporary release, on that date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8413/15]
112. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of prisoners who were committed to prison, for non-payment of fines, and brought to prison on 18 February 2015, and later released on that date, or given temporary release; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8414/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I propose to take Questions Nos. 111 and 112 together.
I can advise the Deputy that on 18 February 2015 there were 55 committals to custody for the non-payment of a fine. Of this, 49 were released on temporary release on that day.
I wish to advise the Deputy that the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 was signed into law by the President on 16 April 2014. The aim of the legislation is to seek to effectively eliminate, in so far as is possible, the need for judges to commit anyone to prison for the non-payment of a fine. As well as introducing an option for persons to pay fines by instalment, there are also changes in the way those who fail to pay fines are dealt with, with a range of options available to judges including recovery orders, attachment of earnings, community service and ultimately imprisonment.
Work is ongoing in preparing for the implementation of the Act. The area most directly affected by the changes is the Courts and the Courts Service is working on a number of developments which will ensure that the implementation of the legislation, and the new procedures which will operate under it, are as efficient as possible.
In relation to the introduction of payment of fines by instalment, a decision was taken to outsource all aspects of the recovery of fines to an external provider. The Courts Service is introducing new arrangements for the payment of fines which will allow payments to be made in a range of outlets across the country, and not just through Courts Service offices. There are significant changes in information technology required to ensure that the instalment payment system operates effectively and that the necessary accounting procedures are in place for the recording of payments. Changes are also required in the way that information is transferred between the Courts Service and An Garda Síochána to ensure that both organisations have fully up to date information on the cases and their current status.
It is expected that all the preparations for the new system will be completed by the third quarter of 2015. While it is desirable that the Act be commenced as soon as possible, it is important that these preparations are done correctly to ensure that the significant changes being implemented in the fines system as a result of this legislation are implemented smoothly and effectively from the start.