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Overdue fines hit a five year low

Overdue fines hit a five year low

The amount of overdue fines owned to the Ashburton District Court is over half-a-million dollars - and more than the total fines issued in the last two years.

However, arrears owned to the court hit a five-year low last year.

Figures released to the Guardian under the Official Information Act show the total amount of outstanding fines and reparation dropped to just over $524,000 last year, after hitting a high of almost $860,000 in 2020.

This is the lowest amount owed to the district court in the last five years. The next lowest was in 2019 when outstanding fines totaled $656,908.

Ministry of Justice service delivery manager Tracey Baguley said the number of fines imposed by the Ashburton District Court had "not shown any significant fluctuation".

The number of fines issued over the last five years ranged between 291 and 308 each year.

However, the value of the fines has varied significantly. In 2018 judges imposed 308 fines and reparation orders totaling $679,820. The following year there was one less fine imposed but the dollar value plummeted to $200,160.

In 2020 the amount jumped to $977,134 for 291 fines and fines with a reparation combined.

In 2021 there were another 291 fines, but the value dropped to $174,088.

Last year a total of 303 cases had fines or reparation orders. The total value of these was $319,031.

Baguley said when a person was initially fined and later given an alternative sentence, such as community work, the case would still show as a court-imposed fine.

The fine balance would be shown as paid when the alternative sentence was completed, she said.

Local barrister Paul Bradford said that, in his view, judges were "very aware" of people's ability to pay when they considered whether to impose a fine.

"It has been said on a number of occasions that the courts would prefer offenders to prioritise the payment of any reparation, and as such maybe move away from a fine and look at other sentencing outcomes instead."

By Sharon Davis