Courts owed £747 million in surcharges and uncollected court fines

[Photo: Pixabay / CC0]

Uncollected court fines and surcharges in England and Wales have risen to £747 million, according to the latest Ministry of Justice figures. While the amount recovered by the department has risen significantly over recent years, convicted offenders are facing increased demands for punitive payments.

The £747 million figure is the MoJ’s estimate up to the end of September 2016, and compares with £680 million at the end of December 2015. It includes fines imposed in magistrates and crown courts, compensation orders, costs orders, criminal courts charges, victim surcharge orders, and unpaid fixed penalty notices and penalty notices for disorder that are registered as fines for enforcement.

Some of the increase is due to a criminal courts charge introduced in April 2015 by the former justice secretary, Chris Grayling.  This required convicted criminals to pay an additional charge of between £150 and £1,200 towards the cost of their case. In December last year, Mr Grayling’s successor, Michael Gove, abolished the criminal courts charge. The sums imposed during that eight-month period still appear as uncollected on MoJ records, however.

Ben Summerskill, director of the Criminal Justice Alliance, was quoted as saying: “The whole of HMCTS [Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service] is in chaos at the moment. There’s no question that the criminal courts charge imposed fines on people who had no means to pay them.  It was a quixotic attempt to square the public finances that was drawn up without any thought about its implementation.”

A spokesperson for HMCTS said: “We take the recovery and enforcement of court fines extremely seriously and our performance is improving. Last year, we collected a record £381 million – an increase of over £110 million since 2010 – and the number of those fined not meeting their repayment terms has fallen by around a third in the last five years.”

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