Courts left with £130m shortfall on fines

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The Independent Online

Courts were left with a shortfall of £130m last year from unpaid fines, the Whitehall spending watchdog reports today.

The National Audit Office (NAO) found that only half of offenders paid promptly, which the Tories said "made a mockery" of government pledges to get tough on antisocial behaviour.

Magistrates in England and Wales imposed more than one million fines, totalling £352m, in 2004-05. But they collected only £222m and wrote off £75m of outstanding debts. The NAO said48 per cent of offenders still owed money six months after being convicted and too many court hearings were wasted on cancelling fines because they were beyond offenders' ability to pay.

It acknowledged that the Department of Constitutional Affairs had increased collection rates, but said there was still "room for improvement" and called for courts to take a "more active role" in pursuing defaulters. Greater efforts should be made to secure immediate payment.

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, said: "If justice is to be done, it is essential that those who have been given a financial penalty by the courts should pay up."