SUFFOLK: More than 80 per cent of court-imposed fines have gone unpaid over the past four years, it can be revealed.
The Evening Star has discovered that of more than £20million imposed by Suffolk courts as punishment for various crimes, nearly £16.5million remains outstanding.
That means criminals in the county have repaid just £3.8million of their debt to society over the past four years – despite being ordered to do so by the courts.
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said the figures make a “complete mockery of the punishment”.
He said: “The fines should hurt, they should mean someone has to give something up, and the idea that people on benefits are keeping their Sky boxes while they plead poverty and say they can’t pay the fines is preposterous.
“If it makes life difficult, that’s a good thing because they shouldn’t have done the crime in the first place.
“We need to be much tougher.”
Mr Gummer said he had spoken to Justice Secretary Ken Clarke about the issue this week, which is to be addressed in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill currently being debated by Parliament.
He added: “The bill will give greater powers to the courts to recover unpaid fines, and it will also lift the cap on fines.
“At the moment, if one person is fined £1,000 it will be a huge amount for them to pay, but for someone else on a higher income, it won’t have the same effect. We are changing that so they can have much higher fines for people on high incomes.”
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “The Government takes the issue of fine enforcement very seriously and HMCTS is working to ensure clamping down on fine dodgers is a continued priority nationwide.
“The courts will do everything within their powers to trace those who do not pay. Money can be taken from an offender’s earnings or from benefits if they are unemployed.
“Warrants can be issued instructing court employed agents to seize and sell goods belonging to the offender. Ultimately an offender can be imprisoned for non-payment of their fine.”
A new strategy for enforcing fines is currently being implemented, which will see magistrates being encouraged to get more fines paid on the day they are imposed and more ways of contacting offenders who have not paid up.