Scottish courts get new powers to tackle fine dodgers

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Media captionCourts will now be able to access information from government databases

Scottish courts are to be given new powers to crack down on fine defaulters.

Fine enforcement officers will to be granted access to information held by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and other Whitehall departments.

It is hoped this will make it easier to track fine dodgers and speed up the collection process.

The announcement was made by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

Mr MacAskill had asked the UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, to ensure court staff in Scotland were able to access the same government databases as their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.

Mr Duncan Smith has now confirmed that the Scottish Court Service should have direct access to DWP information to help ensure offenders pay their fines and penalties in full.

'More efficient'

Scottish officials are working with colleagues in the DWP to make this happen as soon as possible.

Mr MacAskill said: "The collection of fines and penalties is crucial to ensuring fair and effective justice, upholding the law and deterring crime.

"While collection rates have improved since the Scottish Courts Service (SCS) took on responsibility for this and are now at consistently high levels, these figures could be improved further if we had access to key information held about offenders by the Department for Work and Pensions and other Whitehall Departments.

"That's why I wrote to Iain Duncan Smith earlier in the year, asking him to ensure that as a matter of urgency, SCS staff are able to access the same kind of information which is available to fine enforcement teams in England and Wales.

"I welcome the fact that he has agreed with me, that is not acceptable for DWP to provide a lesser service to enforcement officers in Scotland, than elsewhere and has stated his determination to work with other Whitehall Departments and the Scottish government to address this."

Clamping cars

Cliff Binning, executive director of SCS's field service added: "Having access to this information about fine defaulters will help us speed up the process of fine collection and make it more efficient.

"As examples, we will be able to track a defaulter who moves from benefits into work through DWP information and accessing DVLA records will let us clamp cars belonging to fine defaulters to secure quick payments.

"Fine collection rates continue to increase and these additional tools will make it easier for us to tackle those who seek to avoid paying."

John Lamont of the Scottish Conservatives said: "This is a welcome development, but you have to question why it has taken the SNP so long to look give courts this power.

"Mr MacAskill has buried his head in the sand on this issue with £4m in court fines uncollected in the past six months alone - and a total of £18.5m outstanding."

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