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Criminals Owe Ministry Of Justice Nearly £2bn, National Audit Office Survey Shows

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MONEY
Criminals owe nearly £2 billion in unpaid court fees and confiscation orders, a report has found. | PA

Criminals owe nearly £2 billion in unpaid court fees and confiscation orders, a report has found.

The Ministry of Justice had £1.26 billion outstanding in confiscation orders and a further £610 million in unpaid court fees at the end of March, a National Audit Office (NAO) survey showed.

The amount of money missing is more than £400 million higher than the previous year.

At the end of March 2010 the ministry was owed £871 million in confiscation orders and £588 million in unpaid court fines.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: "The Ministry of Justice has made considerable and welcome improvements to its financial management since I last reported. This is crucially important if the ministry is to meet its cost reduction targets.

"However, the ministry should not underestimate how much there is still to do. Collection of fines and assets due has not improved, the Legal Services Commission needs to reduce the error rate in its payment of legal aid, and good financial management must become business as usual."

The Ministry of Justice said it was taking steps to improve fine enforcement across England and Wales, including working with magistrates to get more fines paid on the day they were imposed, increased telephone debt chasing, and better trained and equipped civilian enforcement officers.

A spokesman for Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) said: "The Government takes the issue of fine enforcement very seriously and HMCTS is working to ensure clamping down on fine dodgers is a continued priority nationwide.

"The courts will do everything within their powers to trace those who do not pay. Money can be taken from an offender's earnings or from benefits if they are unemployed. Warrants can be issued instructing court-employed agents to seize and sell goods belonging to the offender. Ultimately an offender can be imprisoned for non-payment of their fine."