More than £4m in court fines handed out to criminals in Lancashire have been written off, it can be revealed.
Official findings from the Ministry of Justice show £4.07m was scrapped by court service administrators between 2007 and this year, because offenders died, disappeared or could not be tracked down.
And the figures are rising every year. In 2007, just £517,000 was written off. By this year, that had soared to more than £1m.
The cash written off this year alone could cover the cost of 41 new police officers.
Today, Government officials insisted stringent steps are taken to track down those who owe cash.
But critics said the figures were evidence that court fines are not strong enough punishments.
One victim, dad-of-one Leyland taxi driver Roger Williams, 59, who was assaulted by a passenger, said: “If someone attacks someone and wounds them, they should go to prison, they shouldn’t just get a fine.
“A lot of them get off scot free. If they have gone out and done damage to whoever or whatever, they should not just get a simple fine and then not pay it.”
Administrative write-offs can happen when an offender dies. But they are also scrapped when offenders move abroad, are committed to mental health institutions, a company which owes the money is liquidated, or if the fine is more than a year old and the offender simply cannot be found.
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “There’s no point in dishing out fines if no one is handing over what they owe. If offenders can easily ignore the penalties, then it seriously undermines the whole concept that crime shouldn’t pay. Courts and the MoJ must work together to drastically improve collection rates if fines are to be taken seriously at all.”
As well as the £4m in administrative write-offs, a further £13.5m in fines have been legally cancelled by courts between 2007 and 2012 – usually after a person challenges their conviction, and the fine imposed as punishment, and is successful.
It comes amid a backdrop of increasing numbers of fines being handed to offenders by courts in the first place.
In 2007/8, £10.9m was handed to offenders in fines by Lancashire courts, compared to more than £11.5m in 2010/11. Court fines are collected by central Government, and then reallocated to pay for public services.
A courts service statement said: “Financial penalties which are administratively cancelled can subsequently be written back to the system if more information, for example if a new address for the offender, is found.”