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Border Checks May Tighten Fines System

Taking all steps to collect outstanding fines is vital to maintain the integrity of our justice system, says Minister for Courts Matt Robson.

The Department of Courts is making preliminary investgations into working more closely with the Department of Customs to ensure fines payments. These investigations could lead to a variety of measures ranging from obtaining up-to-date adresses via data matching, through collecting fines at airports, to apprehending more fines defaulters at borders.

Working together was investigated back in 1997, but at that time both departments were due to update information technology.

Customs and Courts are now checking a sample of fines defaulters to ascertain how many travelled out of the country.

"We can use that information to work out if it is worth proceeding. We don't yet know what level of cooperation will bring the maximum benefits for a realistic cost. " says Mr Robson.

"This work is in its infancy, but we do know that advances in information technology offer a potentially powerful tool to maintain the integrity of punishments handed down by the courts.

"There are Bill of Rights issues in restricting freedom of movement. We may well not proceed down that track because of those issues.

"We also need a flexible system. We don't want a heavy-handed regime blocking a family's fun in Vanuatu because of a $150 fine which they are taking steps to pay.

"Maintaining and enhancing the integrity of the fines system is imperative. If non-imprisonment punishments are not effective, we have no option but to waste resources locking up offenders who pose no threat to community safety. We already do that too much, at a huge cost to New Zealand."

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