The Ministry of Justice effectively wrote off £75m in uncollected court fines last year, new figures have uncovered. In response to a parliamentary written question the ministry revealed it had ’administratively cancelled’ £75.87m in 2012/13.
That was a 20% increase on the previous year and a 50% increase on 2010/11, when fines totalling just over £50m were cancelled.
Financial penalties are administratively cancelled after all attempts to collect the amount outstanding have been made.
The government said cancelling fines that are impossible to recover has allowed it to focus resources on accounts that can be enforced.
Justice minister Shailesh Vara said the ministry reduced the outstanding balance of financial penalties by £17.8m (3% last year). Cash collection levels of £284m were 2% higher than achieved in 2011/12.
He added: ‘HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has carried out a fundamental review of financial penalty accounts, actively targeting accounts to achieve compliance at the earliest point, as well as tackling old accounts, and administratively cancelling them where there is no realistic chance of collection because they do not have enough information to trace the debtors.
‘This explains the increase in the value of administrative cancellations seen in the figures.’
He added that penalties can be written back onto the system if more information is found on the offender.
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, who asked the written parliamentary question, said the figures showed the government had a ‘skewed set of priorities’ when it came to law enforcement. He added: ‘This government’s incompetence and misplaced priorities are clearly demonstrated by the fact that the amount of fines written off have increased by 50% in the last couple of years, whilst they are making damaging cuts legal aid, courts, prisons and probation.’