The level of outstanding fines in Northern Ireland is “exceptionally high”, according to the Northern Ireland Audit Office. Kieran Donnelly, comptroller and auditor general, reported to the Northern Ireland Assembly on the results of his audit of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) Trust Statement for 2015-16. The Trust Statement records the collection of financial penalties imposed by the judiciary, the PSNI and the Driver and Vehicle Agency.

Donnelly said: “At £19.8 million, the level of outstanding fines is exceptionally high when viewed against the fines issued in 2015-16 of £11.4 million The amount of outstanding fines is reduced in the accounts by £10.9 million (55 per cent) that is judged to be irrecoverable. This is the highest amount of bad debt recorded since the Trust Statement was established in 2011.”

His report notes the Department of Justice’s steps to address the issues by establishing new governance arrangements and control structures over fine collection, but also that those actions are not yet complete. A new Fine Collection and Enforcement Service will be operational by the end of 2016-17.

Mr Donnelly said: “The delays in implementing the recommendations of the PAC report undermine the credibility of the justice system in using fines as a means to deter crime. It is important that the new fine collection and enforcement service is implemented.”

The NI Audit Office said it will keep the progress in implementing the improvements and recommendations of the PAC report under review.

Evidence of a successful debt collection process, resulting in a reduction in the number and value of fines remaining unpaid, will be monitored as part of future audits.