Monday 21 January 2013 by John Hyde

The government failed to make any significant impression in the £600m outstanding debt from court fines during the past financial year.

Justice minister Helen Grant revealed on Friday that outstanding impositions stood at £1.8bn by the end of April 2012.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman confirmed that £600m of that figure was unpaid court fines - around the same figure uncovered by the Gazette in July 2011. Grant stressed that Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) did collect more than £484m during the year from offenders.

But in a written statement to the House of Commons, she said there would be an overhaul of the payment system to make payment easier and improve financial information.

The MoJ will also press ahead with plans to bring in a commercial partner from the private sector to help with collection.

Grant said: 'We are determined to take action which will ensure criminals are made to pay what they owe. We've done a good job of collecting the smaller fines - £484m last year - and we are not giving up on the larger debts which have been more difficult to recover.'

The private sector's involvement is likely to be opposed by the Public and Commercial Service Union, which represents around 2,300 court staff working in fine enforcement.

Last year, the PCS held a rally to protest the move, claiming that private firms will target only the vulnerable and waste public money. The debt figures are included in a statement of revenues due to be paid to the Treasury.

Three-quarters of the orders imposed in 2011/12 have been paid in full.

Of the outstanding impositions, £1.2bn is made up of confiscation orders that have not been recovered.

Around a third of this relates to money that cannot be collected: £141m relates to criminals who are deceased, deported or who cannot be located, £154m is classed as hidden by the MoJ after financial investigations, and £278m is interest accrued on outstanding confiscation orders.

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