NAO: already EEK 600 millions in fines are outstanding, the system requires immediate changes

Toomas Mattson | 5/28/2008 | 12:00 AM

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TALLINN, 28 May 2008 - The NAO calls for urgent improvement of the system of penalties imposed for traffic violations and other misdemeanours. The total amount of fines outstanding has exceeded EEK 600 million, whereof EEK 436 million have been outstanding for more than six months.

In the audit report published today, the NAO expresses serious concern about the current situation. The purpose of the penal system is to persuade people to be law-abiding. However, the penalty may not give the desired effect, if it is not enforced within a reasonable period. The large number of habitual offenders is proof of that. According to the NAO, traffic violations and other misdemeanours could be prevented by changes in the system of penalties for misdemeanour.

In addition to fines and detention, supplementary sanctions should be introduced like the obligation to participate in the transportation of crashed vehicles, re-examination, watching of educational films, community service, etc.

The current trend shows that the situation related to fines gets worse every year – the audit of the annual report 2005 of the Ministry of the Interior led the NAO to the finding that the state budget was short of EEK 264 million of fines imposed by the police which were more than 180 days overdue. By the end of 2006, the accounts included a total of EEK 344 million of such fines, and by the end of 2007, this amount had grown to EEK 407 million, according to the Police Board. A month ago, the amount of fines more than 180 days overdue was already EEK 436 million.

In the first four months of this year, almost EEK 139 million have been imposed as fines, whereof EEK 78 million were outstanding at the end of April.

In its audit, the NAO sought the answer to the question whether the fines imposed by the police can be collected within a reasonable period, and if not, why.

Currently, the police can penalise traffic violations and misdemeanours only by means of fines or request the imposition of detention by a court, if the law provides for detention as a penalty for the offence concerned. The use of community service, training courses or the like encouraging refraining from further violations has not been provided for misdemeanour cases. This has led to a situation where the detention houses are full and fines are imposed even when previous fines are outstanding.

Usually, it is not possible, by means of enforcement measures, to receive the fine payment from a person with insufficient funds on his bank account or with low or no income. Persons with low income rarely possess movables for which there is adequate demand and which could be sold in compulsory manner for an amount sufficient to cover the fine payment. If the court so rules, the fine can be replaced by detention, but this might not have the effect of a just penalty. Besides, replacement by detention is difficult, because the detention houses are overloaded and there is a waiting list for serving detention. The situation has been somewhat mitigated by the opening of the Viru Prison, but it should be noted that the replacement detention gives rise to additional expenses to the government and must therefore be justified. The collection of all fines or replacement by detention is not possible in practice.

The NAO found that the time limit for enforcement of the penalty for misdemeanour is not clear. Some bailiffs and judges find that the limitation period of the fine claim is 18 months, and others argue that it is 30 years. Thus, the situation is unpredictable for the offender, the police and the bailiff. Thirty years is obviously an excessively long period for enforcing a penalty for misdemeanour. The NAO believes that a single interpretation of the law should be agreed on immediately or a qualifying provision should be added.

If a fine is subjected to compulsory execution, the offender must pay the fine and the bailiff fee and cover other expenses, even if the fine is paid upon first notice from the bailiff. Informing the people of the accrual of such additional expenses would probably encourage them to pay the fines within the time limit, i.e. 15 days.

The enforcement proceedings database does not support the monitoring of bailiffs by the Ministry of Justice. The bailiffs do not enter the information in the database straight after each operation, and the database does not contain all the data required for analysis. It is pleasing to see that the Ministry of Justice is planning the development and introduction of a new enforcement proceedings register in co-operation with bailiffs. Plus, an increased number of surveillance operations were carried out in 2007.

Another source of problems is the incompatibility between the current information system of the police and the enforcement proceedings database, which complicates data comparison and requires data to be entered manually in different databases. This constitutes a waste of working hours, increasing in the possibility of errors and reducing the reliability of information in the database.

The Ministry of Justice agreed to most of the NAO recommendations and explained how the recommendations are already being or planned to be implemented. The Minister of Justice did not consider it necessary to amend the Penal Code, since the current wording does not prohibit taking into account the serving of an earlier punishment.

The Minister of the Interior agreed to the recommendations and explained how these are to be implemented. Furthermore, the Minister of the Interior suggested considering the possibility of linking the persons having unpaid fines with the database of the Tax and Customs Board to ensure the deduction of arrears from income tax refunds. In principle, the NAO supports the solution suggested by the Minister of the Interior.

The Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications agreed to the recommendations and explained that these have been taken partly into account in drafting the new Traffic Act.

The National Police Commissioner suggested legitimising the conditional release from a penalty for misdemeanour subject to the obligation to attend preventive courses, visit a psychologist etc, and in the case of non-compliance enforce the penalty. Such conditional release measures are appropriate especially for traffic misdemeanour cases, but could be used for other types of misdemeanour as well. The NAO agrees with the Commissioner’s suggestion and recommends the Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications to consider including such measures in the current draft of the Traffic Act.

The Chairman of the Plenary Assembly of Bailiffs has no suggestions or complaints concerning this report.

Toomas Mattson
Communication Manager of National Audit Office
Telephone: 6400 777
Mob: 51 34900
E-mail: toomas.mattson@riigikontroll.ee

  • Posted: 5/28/2008 12:00 AM
  • Last Update: 9/15/2015 10:08 AM
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