Dundee City West MSP Joe FitzPatrick today welcomed the announcement by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill that Scottish courts are to be given new powers to crack down on fine dodgers.
The Justice Secretary had requested that Scottish courts be provided access to the same UK government databases that are used by courts in England and Wales to help track offenders and ensure they pay their fines.
The UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, has now agreed that the Scottish Court Service (SCS) should have access to the Department for Work and Pensions’ databases.
Having access to DWP databases will help SCS enforcement staff in their efforts to pursue fine dodgers, which can include deduction of payments from benefits, arresting of wages, as well as freezing of bank accounts.
Commenting on the news, Joe FitzPatrick, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Dundee City West where Dundee Sheriff Court is located, said:
“It was clearly unfair that courts in England and Wales were able to access UK Government databases to track fine dodgers whilst courts here in Scotland were not.
“I’m glad that the Secretary of State has accepted this disparity and has agreed to rectify it by allowing the Scottish Court Service to access his department’s data.
“There must be no escape from paying court fines.
“This move will help to ensure that those who have been found guilty of breaking the law and have had fines imposed on them are tracked down and forced to pay.”
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.”