Drivers who don't pay fines could face a ban on motor tax renewals
Drivers who fail to pay fines for motoring offences should not be able to renew their motor tax or sell their vehicle until the money has been paid, under plans being considered by the Courts Service.
It has called for further reform of how the State deals with the non-payment of court fines after it claimed a scheme designed to improve collection rates was not working.
The Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014, which came into effect in January 2016, was introduced to provide judges with a range of non-custodial options for offenders refusing to pay court fines.
However, Courts Service figures show that judges cannot consider community service or attachment orders, as people who fail to pay fines are also failing to show up in courts when summonsed.
The chief executive of the Courts Service, Angela Denning, has recommended that fines for motoring offences should be recorded on the vehicle's record so they must be paid before motor tax can be renewed or the vehicle be sold.
Another key proposal is to allow for unpaid fines to be converted into a civil debt and enforced accordingly.
For example, fines such as those for the non-payment of TV licences could be added to a Local Property Tax bill and parking fines could be replaced by a clamping system.
Ms Denning has called on the Department of Justice to consider alternative options to make the collection of fines more efficient and reduce the workload on the courts system.
In the 12 months before the legislation was changed, almost 32pc of court fines were paid before the due date, but the rate has fallen to 26pc since 2016.
"This data suggests that more people are waiting longer to address the fine imposed than was the case under the former regime," said Ms Denning.
Ms Denning said very few people were jailed for the non-payment of fines because of overcrowding in the country's jails, while some offenders regarded their arrest as a way of "clearing their fines debt".
While the new legislation was intended to eliminate this, Ms Denning said it showed that the new regime was dependent on people turning up in court.
"Our experience is that this is not happening and we have noted a partial replacement of the former fines warrants with bench warrants," she added.
Up to one-third of people summonsed for the non-payment of a fine are believed to fail to show up for their second appearance, which results in arrest warrants being issued.
In a letter to the Dail Public Accounts Committee, Ms Denning said the Courts Service had sought a meeting with officials from the Department of Justice, An Garda Siochana, the Irish Prison Service, the Attorney General, the DPP and the Probation Service, as well as the Courts Service itself.
Although the level of fines issued by the courts has remained static, the amount collected in fines has fallen from €11.2m in 2014 to €6.9m in 2018.
At a PAC meeting, Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry called for the collection of fines to be restored to the previous regime.
"While the intentions were brilliant, it has not worked. Why is the default position not to revert back to what it was before rather than have a high-level group," Mr MacSharry said.