$22m collected from criminals to fund victim services but overall debt increases

Manukau District Court had the highest collection rate for the offender levy, gathering $532,541 in the last 19 months.
SAMANTHA SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Manukau District Court had the highest collection rate for the offender levy, gathering $532,541 in the last 19 months.

More than $22 million dollars has been paid out by offenders toward a fund which is designed to help out crime victims.

However, the amount is dwarfed by the overall debt owed by defendants to the courts for reparations and fines, which sits at $593m at the end of June 2016, according to the Ministry of Justice's  annual report.

This is $17m more than the amount owed when compared to the 2015 figures.

Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar is happy with the way the offender levy scheme is working but would ...

Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar is happy with the way the offender levy scheme is working but would still like to see the cash take doubled.

Since its introduction in 2010 the offender levy, which is collected across the country's District or High Courts, has accrued money which has gone directly to help fund services for more than 6000 victims.

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Between 2010 and February 2015, $16.6m had been raised.  Since March 2015 to October this year, a further $5.5m had been collected.

Offenders owe New Zealand courts $17m more than they did in the year ending June 2015.
RAFAEL BEN-ARI/123RF

Offenders owe New Zealand courts $17m more than they did in the year ending June 2015.

The $50 fee is imposed after an offender is sentenced and it has to be paid within 28 days. Court reparation is an offender's first priority for payment, followed by the levy, then any outstanding fines.

Figures made available to Fairfax Media under the Official Information Act, show the biggest income source in the last 19 months came from one of New Zealand's busiest courts - the Manukau District Court - where offenders paid  $532,541.10 to the fund.  Christchurch District Court followed a close second on $514,674.00.

In comparison, New Plymouth District Court offenders paid out $94,963.18 while those sentenced in the Hawera District Court provided $46,691.65 to the fund.

In the 2015/16 financial year, $191m was collected in fines and reparation in New Zealand.

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The Sensible Sentencing Trust (SST) believed the initiative had been so successful, it advocated for the levy to be doubled to $100.

"It's something we will definitely be pushing ahead of the next election," SST founder Garth McVicar said.

McVicar said the scheme helped to keep offenders accountable for the direct harm caused to victims.

"It was intended to do this without penalising the taxpayer," he said.

McVicar said the SST promoted the idea of the levy when it was first introduced and the victims he had spoken to about it had been happy with the results. 

"It's definitely working."

"The feedback we're getting is good," he said.

McVicar said the intention of the levy was to balance the needs of the victim against what he described as an "offender friendly" system.

To date, the money has been used to fund a variety of initiatives for victims, including sexual violence court victim advisors, travel costs for victims of serious crime and improved support for family members of murder victims.

He said more could be done to tighten up the system though, especially in terms of increased penalties for people who do not pay.

Top court collectors for offender levy (March 2015-October 2016):

* Manukau District Court: $532,541.10
* Christchurch District Court: $514,674.00
* Auckland District Court: $435,052.70
* Hamilton District Court: $290,391.90
* Waitakere District Court: $249,736.40

Source: Ministry of Justice

 - Stuff

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