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Courts takes millionth step in collections

14 August 2003 Media Statement
Courts takes millionth step in collections

The government was working harder than ever to ensure outstanding fines and reparations were being paid to the victims of crime, Courts Minister Rick Barker said today.

“This morning we celebrated the one millionth phone call handled by the Courts Department’s Collections Unit Contact Centre since the Wellington facility reopened in October last year.

“That’s one million steps toward concluding the court process, or an impressive 91,000 calls per month in an effort to resolve fines.”

Mr Barker said the state-of-the-art Contact Centre had proved a cost-effective way of collecting fines – particularly rapidly rising infringements. It collected $54 million in fines in 2002-03 – around a third of Collections’ total revenue.

The Contact Centre’s relocation and expansion was one of a raft of enforcement tools and new initiatives to combat rising fine imposition.

Infringement fines now form the bulk of Collections’ work. Infringements accounted for 48 percent of new fines between 1992-2003, compared to an estimated 78 percent now.

Infringements, or ‘instant tickets’ are issued by more than 130 prosecuting agencies, which generally give offender 56 days to pay before filing with Courts for enforcement.

Mr Barker said infringements tended to be harder to collect than Court-imposed fines because offenders ‘willing’ to pay have already done so direct.

“Courts also has less control over the information needed to locate offenders because it is supplied initially by the prosecuting agency.”

Despite that, about 85 percent of fines filed with Courts for collection are resolved within four years.

It was estimated that 96 percent of all fines imposed were resolved by the prosecuting agency prior to filing or by Courts, meaning only about four percent remained unresolved. This number included people who had left the country, died, or had not yet been located.

Mr Barker said those who owed fines or reparations but failed to address them should take the earliest opportunity to do so, or risk embarrassment.

“We are determined to get people to pay their fines earlier, and in particular, to resolve the four percent of long-term fines defaulters,” said Mr Barker.

A hard-hitting enforcement strategy started this week with radio and newspaper advertising warning major fine defaulters in Auckland and Northland to resolve their fines or risk having their names, age and address published in newspapers from August 30.

The campaign follows a recent trial in the South Island that led to a positive response from about 40 percent of the 550 fines defaulters publicised.

“Information provided by others about the whereabouts of some defaulters reinforced my belief the public has a low tolerance of fines and reparation defaulters.”

Mr Barker said an increase in the total amount of fines collected in the 2002-03 financial year showed such initiatives were working.

“This is the first year the total of overdue unpaid fines has gone down. It is also the best year ever in terms of the amount collected in fines, up $14 million from the previous best to $150 million.”

The value of overdue fines also decreased eight percent in the 2002-03 financial year while the total value of overdue unpaid fines at 30 June 2003 decreased to $306 million, compared with $334 million the previous year.

The amount of total reparation collected in the 2002-03 financial year was also significant – up 30 percent ($2.856m) from $9.423 million in 2001-02 to $12.279 million.

Mr Barker said the Courts and Criminal Matters Bill, currently before Parliament, reinforced the message that fines and reparation must be paid.

The Bill will enable enforcement of fines at international airports by comparing Courts’ fines database with the Immigration database of people coming in and out of the country. It is expected to collect $1.5 million annually in fines, including reparation that would not otherwise be collected.

“Fines collection is a complex process, with more than two million individual fines being handled by Courts at any one time. However, Courts has a wide range of enforcement options available and the bottom line is, fines won’t go away.”

ENDS

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