Tory MP Kris Hopkins asked justice minister Jonathan Djanogly a very good question last week: ‘What progress has [your] department made in recouping outstanding financial penalties that remain uncollected by HM Courts Service?'
Answer came there none.
Actually, that’s not quite true. The minister responded by answering a different question altogether which, understandably, rather bemused his interrogator.
Is Djanogly beginning to feel the strain of his admittedly challenging portfolio, which includes legal aid?
Hopkins deserves a detailed answer, and in short order.
Last year the National Audit Office reported that HMCS has failed to collect over £1.3bn of fines and other penalties, and the quantum has been soaring for years. Yet nothing very much seems to have been done about this.
Back in 2002 the same watchdog reported that court fines were being ‘undermined as a form of punishment’ because too many were going unpaid or just being written off.
The Tories, then in opposition, declared this to be a ‘ridiculous state of affairs’.
They were – and are – quite right.
As Gazette reporter James Dean blogs this week, when you write out the noughts it brings it home that £1,300,000,000 is a very large amount of money indeed.
For comparison, it’s more or less two years’ worth of total legal aid funding for civil and family representation – which the minister would doubtless be able to tell you.