Bailiffs to target motorists who fail to pay fines

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The Independent Online

Already faced with choking congestion and speed cameras watching their every move, Britain's beleaguered motorists are facing more bad news: bailiffs will be allowed to sell their possessions for unpaid fines.

Under a new crackdown on fine-dodgers, drivers who think they can flout speed traps and the law against using mobile phones while driving by simply refusing to pay their penalties are likely to have their homes searched by government bailiffs.

Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, will announce on Tuesday the setting up of a new National Enforcement Service, whose officers will have search-and-entry powers as they go after persistent fine dodgers. They will also have the job of tracking "bail bandits" who create havoc in courts by failing to turn up.

The Department of Constitutional Affairs emphasised yesterday that this does not mean that someone who absent-mindedly forgets to pay a motoring fine will hear the ominous knock on the door.

The agency will be told to go after the "hard core" of persistent fine dodgers, which includes large numbers of people who have repeatedly committed offences such as speeding as well as those guilty of vandalism or drunken loutishness.

Many of these offenders have not only failed to pay fines, but have also ignored court orders to pay restitution to their victims.

The agency will make them pay that as well. It will have access to the police national computer and other data to help trace offenders. Last year, the courts imposed fines totalling £290m, of which £60m - more than one-fifth of the total - has never been paid.

The figures vary region by region. In Merseyside, for example, less than 70 per cent of fines are paid.

The figures have improved, however, since Tony Blair decided to create the new Department of Constitutional Affairs, headed by the Lord Chancellor, which has a political role in running the court service.

"We have achieved a lot in cracking down on fine dodgers and bail bandits but a lot remains to be done," Lord Falconer said yesterday.

"This new national enforcement service, together with the new powers we have given them, will make a huge difference in tackling the small hard core of offenders who think they can get away with it. We want to make sure there is no hiding for fine dodgers."

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, said: "We will not tolerate people who skip bail. Turning up at court is not an option, it is an obligation."

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