Nearly half of the solicitors fined by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in recent years have avoided paying those fines in full, figures obtained by the Gazette reveal.

Of 579 cases since 2008 in which such a penalty was imposed, the fine has yet to be paid in full in 266.

In response to a freedom of information request, HM Treasury – which is responsible for collecting fines – admitted £1.7m was owed at the end of 2012.

That figure is a significant proportion of the £3.5m of fines issued by the SDT in the previous five years, though some of the outstanding sums will date from further back.

The outstanding amount will raise questions about the Treasury’s ability to enforce punishments handed out by the tribunal. HM Treasury said that just ‘two to three people’ are employed to work on fines collection.

An order imposed by the SDT is treated as an order of the High Court for the purposes of enforcement. This means that enforcement procedures can be set in train without the need first to obtain judgment for default.

In the 2011/12 financial year, 102 solicitors were ordered to pay fines ranging from £500 to £30,000.

Fines totalled £765,000 in the course of the year, a drop of almost £100,000 from 2010/11.