Crime victims paid 'on the drip'

LIB WILSON
Last updated 05:00 20/01/2014

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More than $5 million is owed to Waikato victims of crime - about one-third of it overdue - frustrating many who say the repayment process is like "drip feeding".

However the courts minister says new tools that stop people from dodging fines and reparations have driven down the balance owing.

Nationally, about $97m was owed to New Zealand district courts in reparations as of June 30, 2013, from almost 24,000 offenders.

At the same time, in the Waikato region's four main district courts, about $5.6m was owing to victims of crime, and about half ($2.9m) was "under arrangement".

This means a payment plan has been set up, for example by automatic payment.

It can be a long, slow process for people like Hamilton businessman Nigel Dolheguy.

Office worker Beverley Dawson began stealing from him the same day his teenage son died in an accident in 2008.

In late 2010, Dawson was sentenced in the Hamilton District Court to four months of home detention and ordered to pay $25,903 in reparation.

Mr Dolheguy said he received about $50 a fortnight, interest free, which he saw as a pretty good loan for Dawson.

"Where [the system] goes wrong is it relies on the person that did you wrong to drip feed you over this amount of time - that's just insane," he said.

He would sell the debt to a collection agency "in a heartbeat" if it were possible.

But Courts Minister Chester Borrows said collection of reparations was a "constant priority" which courts took very seriously.

" The reality of the system is the courts cannot pay reparations to victims until the offender pays the court."

Courts have several options for enforcing overdue amounts, like clamping vehicles, seizing and selling property, or making compulsory deductions from income or a bank account.

The Government had also introduced new tools to make it harder for people to "dodge" outstanding fines and reparations, Mr Borrows said, which had helped bring fines and reparations owed to their lowest level in almost a decade.

A further planned change was the ability to suspend a person's driver's licence if they had unpaid traffic-related fines or reparations, which would be enforced from early this year.

Mr Borrows said court collections worked with victims to arrange payments to suit them as money came in from offenders.

The court could collect the reparations in instalments and pay the victim either as it was collected or as a lump sum once the total was paid.

But Waikato spokeswoman for the Sensible Sentencing Trust Paula Hastings said slow repayment was a constant reminder to victims of what they had been through.

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The process should not be "offender driven" and should avoid re-victimising, she said.

"It's the same as restorative justice . . . some people feel it's a healing process, and others just don't want anything to do with it. I think reparation is very similar."

At the Hamilton District Court, the five largest reparations owing range from $280,000 to $113,170.

THE NUMBERS

Reparations owing nationally – $97m

Reparation owing in the Waikato – $5.6m R

eparations "under arrangement" in the Waikato – $2.9m

Overdue reparations in the Waikato – $1.8m

Largest amount owing from one person – $280,000

Top debts at Hamilton District Court

$280,000 – tax evasion

$152,761 – withholding tax

$151,004 – dishonest use of a computer

$139,945 – dishonest use of a computer

$113,170 – obtaining by deception (over $1000)

- Waikato Times

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