A justice campaigner wants a tougher fines regime after revelations Queenstown’s court scrapped $361,000 in the past five years.
The amount – more than $1300 a week – was wiped from almost $1.1 million worth of fines exchanged for alternative sentences.
The figures, released to Mountain Scene under the Official Information Act, reveal local lawbreakers racked up $5.5m worth of fines during the period from 2008 to 2012.
Queenstown’s figures are just a drop in the pail compared to national statistics – a whopping $225m was cancelled nationally out of $3.6 billion owed for the same period.
Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar says the cancellation of fines without alternative sentences is destroying Kiwis’ confidence in the justice system.
“The message that the public will be taking out of it is crime pays and the consequences are virtually zilch if you don’t pay your fine – you just get them written off,” McVicar says.
“The cost alone in dollar terms is horrific to our country. If you look at the ongoing ramifications, the message it’s sending to our community and to our offenders – it’s no wonder we have such a huge battle against the escalating crime in our country because it’s being underwritten by legislation or the messages coming out of the courts.”
In Queenstown District Court on Monday, Kingston man Matthew Phillips had $6652 worth of traffic offence fines scrapped in exchange for 200 hours’ community work. He still owes $5000.
But many outstanding fines and reparation involving overseas tourists fail to get paid because they leave Queenstown before the due payment date.
In March this year, the sentence of convicted Australian fraudster Courtney Elice was cancelled in Queenstown District Court because she’d skipped the country – owing $2000 in reparation.
Singaporean tourist Teck Kai Wong failed to pay $4000 in outstanding reparation to local woman Eliza Anderson after Wong T-boned her car in June. The money was repaid after Mountain Scene published Anderson’s story – which was picked up by Singaporean publication The New Paper.
At the time of Anderson’s saga, veteran Queenstown senior constable Chris Blackford said the chances of victims getting money from offenders who’d left the country was almost non-existent.
Ministry of Justice acting deputy secretary for legal and operational services Brendan Horsley says reasons to remit fines include when a person dies, a company is in liquidation or when the victim is paid directly and court records need to be corrected.
“Queenstown’s population is more transient than other centres which can make it more difficult to enforce overdue fines and reparation, particularly for foreigners who leave the country before their fines become due,” he adds.
Courts don’t take action till a fine or reparation is due – usually 28 days from the date it is issued.
“If an offender leaves the country before their fine is due, the court’s enforcement powers are limited.”
Warrants to arrest can be issued for people who fail to pay and they can be stopped by police at airports if arriving in or departing the country after the payment is due.
“This initiative has resulted in nearly $8.5m [nationwide] being paid or placed under arrangement to be repaid in the last four years,” Horsley adds.
Of the country’s total fines owed, about $340m is under arrangement to be paid or is a new fine not yet outstanding.
McVicar says other countries have stricter mechanisms in place to ensure fines are immediately paid and New Zealand needs to follow suit: “If somebody offends and there’s a judgment made through the court, then ultimately they shouldn’t be able to leave the country from the time that judgment has been handed down.
“With the way technology is today, that can and should be done immediately,” McVicar adds.
“We’ve got Government and political parties talking about how NZ’s got to reduce its crime rate – but that’s obviously not the message that’s being delivered by the judges in our courts.
“From the victim’s point of view, they aren’t getting the reparation. They just feel they’re being slapped in the face.”
Take the passport until the money is paid and deport them immediately if they can not show that they can pay. A tourist can not earn the money to pay so why let them overstay if they have unpaid reparations or fines? To work illegally or steal again? One thing is for sure though, diversion is a joke at the best, but when applied to anyone who is not an N.Z. resident at the least is just an insult to the victims of the numerous assaults perpetrated by little pricks on their gap year etc
09 Oct 2012 12:18PMalpresidente
Get them when they are here
Take the passport, pay the fine,then go home. Simple really, well it should be. When will judges get it right for a change?
01 Oct 2012 10:27AMYEA RIGHT
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