Who is really paying for the price of justice? The “fine” Detail has been doing its sums …

The Detail’s Kathryn Torney has published an analysis of NI prison admissions due to fine defaulting. Information held in the Prison Records Management System covering 14,259 prison admissions over a 70 month period was released under a Freedom of Information request. The data shows that 2000 people go to jail in NI every year for fine defaulting – around a third of prison admissions.

The Criminal Justice Inspectorate has also spoken out strongly.

Chief Inspector Dr Michael Maguire said: “The number of fine defaulters in prison is simply unacceptable, does nothing to address the needs of offenders or society and makes the prisons much more difficult to run.”

The statistics are staggering.

Fine default reasons - from TheDetail.tv

  • Over the 70 month period, the 14,259 defaulted fines added up to £4.8 million – all written off once the sentences given are complete.
  • 89% of fine defaulters had unpaid fines of £500 or less.
  • 92% of sentences given were between 7 and 14 days.

Fine default prison sentence lengths - from TheDetail.tv
Fine default prisoners typically serve a third of their sentence.

  • Motoring offences make up half (49%) of the defaulted fines. 4,600 people without insurance.
  • Non-payment of fines for not having a TV licence 5% – 728 people.

Fine default sizes - from TheDetail.tv
The article points to a lack of consistency between the value of the defaulted fine and the time served.

Justice comes at price.

It has been estimated that it costs £3,000 for a four-day committal of a prisoner.

Overcrowded prisons + planned reductions in staff levels = time to reassess the applicability custodial sentences?

The Criminal Justice Inspectorate suggests that for some people, a few days stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure is a cheap way to pay off a fine.

What are the alternatives?

  • Encouraging the prompt payment of fines (and thus reducing defaulting) is also an option the Department of Justice proposed in their summer consultation, along with powers to deduct fine monies from wages or social security benefits.
  • A trial of the Supervised Activity Orders scheme – unpaid community work for between 10 and 100 hours in order to pay off fines up to £500 – starts in January. Maybe in future the Probation Service will be able to staff traffic wardens attendants in towns and cities across NI, and win the work off NSL Service Group who currently supply the red-jumpered enforcement army.

The full article is worth a read, along with its graphs. A fine piece of data analysis.

, , ,

  • It is clear that the number of fine defaulters are showing a disregard for the law and accept prison as a kind of occupational hazard that has no shaming effect or has any impact on their future lives eg employment opportunity etc.
    It might be tempting to say that the number of “unpaid” fines would be reduced if fines were not imposed in the first place…….ie allow people to do whatever they want to do.
    We cannot lower our thresholds.
    If we abolished fines for driving too fast, then quite simply a lot more people would drive too fast……which might be good for Jeremy Clarkson but hardly for Society.

    We cannot overlook the fact that the motoring sector makes up the bulk of the problem.
    What to do?
    Fines dont work……..and prison is “acceptable” to the offender.
    So why not just double and triple the fines for a while and move in and confiscate something they actually value…..like a car.

  • aquifer

    I had never realised that the fine was written off.

    So the guy who goes to jail for the £30k fine for planning offences is up £30k after the state feeding housing and entertaining him for a while.

    Or charge about in an uninsured car until a judge gets you three square meals a day clean sheets and lots of TV.


    This is a job creation scheme for lawyers, that is all.

  • Cynic2

    Even better when they come out they are entiled to a travel grant and resettlement money, arent they.

    So we house and feed them, they lie about watching TV for a whiole (just like home) then get paid as well.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I agree with Mr Fitz. The numbers are very surprising .. but I don’t know what else you are supposed to do when someone doesn’t pay their fine.

    Anybody who thinks that jail is some sort of soft option has no idea what they are talking about.

  • Cynic2


    Take it out of their pay or their benefits


    Jail may or may not be some sort of soft option but it certainly seems that way for the man sentenced to just seven days for an unpaid fine of £90,607.

  • The yokel


    Link to a recent case – a year in jail to save £15,000, doesn’t appear much of a bargain to me, and he still has to knock the house down.

  • Lionel Hutz

    There’s basically a rate. A day in prison pays off a certain amount of the fine. The time in prison is directly proportional to the size of the fine.

    Its a ridiculous system. So many of the criminals in this jurisdiction are on or below the poverty line and dont have the means to pay off larger fines. The standard time allowed for payment is four weeks. Go into your local petit sessions and you’ll see most lawyers asking for additional time to pay.

    This is not about a disregard for the law. No-one would spend time in prison if they ahd the money to pay.

    But I love how armchair commentators go straight to lay the blame on the offenders as if it is by choice. On our scale of sentencing, fines are the bottom of the ladder moving up to Communtiy service and then Custody.

    The ridiculous thing is that defaulting on the fine results in custody in lieu, rather than community service.

  • Comrade Stalin


    So many of the criminals in this jurisdiction are on or below the poverty line and dont have the means to pay off larger fines. .

    Maybe they need to stick to the day job.

    But I agree with the idea about community service.