Monday 14 January 2008

Paying fines at the corner shop

In an opinion piece for the new journal Scottish Criminal Law a few months ago, I argued against certain changes being made to fiscal fines, concluding (half-jokingly) that “[c]riminal justice should require offenders to confront their wrongdoing, not merely be invoiced for it.”

This may not have been such a joke after all. Friday’s Evening News (click here) reports that the Scottish Court Service plans to allow offenders to pay fines at the corner shop, or by credit or debit card. No doubt this will be more convenient for offenders, but paying a fine is not supposed to be convenient. Coincidentally, a report in yesterday’s Sunday Herald (click here) is critical of the increasing use of non-court disposals, saying that:

“The latest figures reveal the use of warning letters and fiscal penalties to deal with low-level offences shot up from 72,000 in 2005-06 to 117,000 in 2006-07. Sara Matheson, president of the Glasgow Bar Association, said taking so many cases out of the courts posed long-term risks of re-offending. “Going to court was a disincentive to offending,” she said. "Now there is a danger of turning too many cases into paper exercises.””

Collection rates for fines are lower than anyone would like, and there are good arguments in favour of what the SCS proposes to do. But collecting fines and processing cases is not the aim of a criminal justice system – these are only means to an end. Whether measures such as these make for better prevention, deterrence and punishment of crime is a rather more difficult question to answer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Such a notion is simply ridiculous. However, one cannot dispute the inherent 'convenience' ... in offenders being able to make their payment and subsequently undertake a robbery at the store ... it brings a whole new dimension to 'cash back'.