Northern Ireland

£19m owed to Stormont in unpaid court fines

Image caption The report looked at unpaid court fines and other penalties

The Stormont government is owed £19m in unpaid court fines and penalties, a report has found.

The assembly's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that £6.5m is unlikely to be recovered.

The report into the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals service, also said warrants worth more than £1m had gone missing.

The committee is calling for urgent reform of the system for collecting the financial penalties.

Michaela Boyle, chairperson of the PAC, said: "The way that financial penalties and fines have been managed is unacceptable.

"The current system has led to 6,682 paper warrants with a value of approximately £1.1m going missing and, therefore, not being collected.

"The committee was surprised to find that there is currently £19m in unrecovered financial penalties, with £6.5m unlikely to ever be recovered.

'Outstanding debt'

"Furthermore, PSNI has also reported one significant case of suspected fraud which is currently in the hands of the PPS."

The report said that despite significant levels of outstanding debt, the Department of Justice had "failed to coordinate a joined-up approach to fine collection and, as a result, current governance arrangements are unacceptable."

As well as problems with collecting the fines and penalties, there were issues with managing the costs associated with the collection process, the report said.

Ms Boyle said: "In these times of great financial stress for the government and all departments, it is incumbent upon all government and non-governmental agencies to ensure that systems are efficient and provide good value for money.

"As well, it is crucial that where fines are imposed, they are collected and the monies used for the benefit of everyone here.

"Reform is urgently required and we look forward to the Department of Justice implementing our recommendations in full."

The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service is the body responsible for collecting financial penalties imposed by the courts, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Driver and Vehicle Agency.