Text messages to be sent to fine evaders

Text messages sent to fine evaders in Staffordshire as part of Operation Payback 3 that aimed to improve clean-up rates of fine evaders have proved a great success.

Jan 12, 2006
By David Howell

Text messages sent to fine evaders in Staffordshire as part of Operation Payback 3 that aimed to improve clean-up rates of fine evaders have proved a great success.

The messages telling recipients to pay up or get locked up resulted in three quarters of those who received a text settling their outstanding fine immediately. Staffordshire Magistrates’ Court now has an automatic system that contacts offenders, which has resulted in more than £2m in debts being collected. The success of the scheme means it could be incorporated into the National Enforcement Service, which is set to be tested in April and come into effect in 2007.

Constitutional Affairs minister Harriet Harman commented: “Everyone’s got a mobile phone and as one of the most common ways to keep in touch these days, it makes sense for the courts to contact offenders that way too. It’s about being one step ahead of the criminals. It doesn’t cost much, it’s quick and effective and most importantly offenders take notice.”

Using text messages is only one of the methods that the National Enforcement Service is actively looking at. Email, calling people about outstanding fines, or to remind them about a court appearance and any community service they have been ordered to do are also being tested.

Harriet Harman added: “We’ve already changed the law to give magistrates’ courts better access to information and material held by police and others, such as photos of people who are charged. Now we’re examining how extensively we could use texting to remind offenders of their legal and moral obligations.”

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