The SNP has pointed the ‘staggering hypocrisy’ of Labour allegations regarding court fines, as figures show the majority of money collected goes straight to the Treasury.
While being interviewed on BBC Good Morning Scotland on Tuesday, Labour MSP and party Justice spokesperson Lewis Macdonald said: “If the Justice Secretary … collected more of the fines that the courts imposed you would very quickly find … it would more than cover the savings.”
In 2007-8, the Scottish courts collected a total of £16,745,000 in fines. By 2010-11 this sum had increased to £45,625,000. Last year alone, Scottish courts imposed fines to a total value of £32 million.
However, even though justice policy is the responsibility of the Scottish government and the Scottish legal system is distinct and independent, none of this money remains in Scotland. Instead it goes directly into the budget of the UK Treasury.
Since the introduction of devolution the total paid to the Treasury amounts to approximately £370 million, which could go a considerable way towards improving Scotland’s justice system. However none of this cash is available to the Scottish Government to take the steps Mr Macdonald suggested.
Mr Macdonald has also failed to recognise it was only at the end of April that Westminster granted fine enforcement officers in Scotland’s courts access to vital information needed to help them crackdown on fine defaulters.
Mr Macdonald’s comments raise the question of whether Labour’s Justice spokesperson is aware that fines imposed by Scottish courts are sent directly to the UK Treasury.
If Mr Macdonald did not realise this, his party stands accused of appointing a spokesperson to the Justice brief who is ignorant of some of the most basic workings of the Scottish Justice system.
However if Mr Macdonald did in fact know that fines collected in Scotland are sent directly to the UK Treasury and not to the Scottish Government, it raises the question of why he knowingly made a misleading and inaccurate intervention which Labour has not since corrected.
SNP MSP and Justice Committee member Roderick Campbell said:
“Labour’s staggering hypocrisy knows no bounds – they complain about how fines are spent while Westminster rakes in the majority of the money.
“His allegation that the Scottish Government does not collect enough court fines fails to acknowledge that it was only in April Scotland was given access to information vital in cracking down on fine defaulters.
“How can Labour seriously argue it is best for Westminster to control these issues for our country? Scotland was limited in catching fine defaulters because we were not allowed access to vital information held by UK government departments.
“If Mr Macdonald wants to argue over figures, he should look at the true cost of the union – which is laid bare in figures showing Scotland has lost £370million in fines to the Treasury.
“It has never made any sense for fines levied for offences committed in Scotland to then be retained by the UK Treasury, when they could be put directly to good use funding anti-crime initiatives here.
“A Yes vote in 2014 will allow us to keep this money and invest it back into Scotland, directing it into specific areas that will allow us to build a fairer, safer society.”