Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Feeble Fiscal Fines

There has been a sharp rise in the number of Fiscal Fines (or Direct Measures) issued from Arbroath. Fiscal Fines were introduced to punish low level offences and thereby free up court time for more serious matters.

For example, in Arbroath during 2007 there were 5 direct measures issued for vandalism/graffiti (Section 52(1) of the Criminal Law (Scotland) Act 1995). In 2008, this had risen to 46.

A Fiscal Fine can be up to £300. The accused does not need to attend court and does not end up with a criminal record, although it is kept on file for two years.

On the face of it, the system may have something going for it. And yet. We now know that an individual who commits an 'assault to injury' can be dealt with by a Fiscal Fine. Worse still, get caught in possession of a class 'A' drug, and guess what, you can get a Fiscal Fine (don't forget that in either of these cases you also won't get a criminal record either. Given that the accused won't see the inside of a courtroom, a contributory factor such as a drink or drug problem will not be addressed either. You just send off the letter accepting the fine.

Crimes involving violence or hard drugs are not, in my opinion, low level offences and should involve a court appearance.

It gets worse than this though. Because it was recently revealed that almost half of these fines haven't even been paid, with almost £2million outstanding. So a criminal avoids court, avoids a criminal record and ultimately avoids punishment. What's the point?

Clearly, the Direct Measures idea is not providing a punishment and it certainly isn't providing a deterrent.

Whilst I understand that there is a degree of embarrassment in the Crown Office over this (which is something of an achievement I would say given my experience of them) there seems little appetite for change.

My sources in the Justice Dept are also expressing frustration at the SNP's reluctance to take a harder line on law and order issues, preferring instead to give credence to the arguments of the hand wringing apologists whose ideas are accelerating what many members of the public perceive to be a rapid decline in the justice system, with ever decreasing punishments.

I actually wonder if those whose job it is to direct or manage the justice system, whether they are politicians or Crown Office lawyers, are actually aware of the concern among communities about the effect of crime, not just on the amenity of an area, but the detrimental effect on an individual who has been a victim of crime. Personally, I don't think so. I'm not advocating a 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' solution, but we really do have to ask ourselves if the punishments being meted out fit the crime and provide a deterrent.

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