New minor offences police powers in NI

Police in Northern Ireland will have new powers to deal with minor offences from next week. A system of fixed penalty notices will allow police officers to issue £40 or £80 fines to first-time offenders.

The new powers are comprised in the Justice Act which passed through the Northern Ireland assembly last year, and are expected to reduce the court caseload by as many as 1,500 fewer hearings each year. Justice Minister David Ford said it was not a case of "being soft" on crime, citing that nearly two-thirds of criminal prosecutions in court "result in the offender receiving a fine of £100 or less", often involving first time offenders who have "committed relatively minor offences" which they readily admit to.

The two tier level of fines can be applied as follows:

  • £40 fines for being drunk in public, or indecent behaviour such as urinating in the street
  • £80 fines for disorderly behaviour such as breach of the peace, obstructing police, criminal damage up to value of £200, shoplifting or theft up to value of £100 (if goods are recovered and can be resold)

Commenting on the story, Belfast criminal solicitor Neil Logan stated:

“While criminal solicitors will appreciate the need to reduce the Court lists it must be noted that these new powers can not be used as a way to circumvent a defendant’s right to a fair trial. One would hope that those accused of crimes that they did not commit will not see the acceptance of such orders as a quick and pain-free way out of what can often be a long drawn out legal process. If you are accused of a criminal offence it is vitally important that you seek good quality advice from a solicitor.”

If you have received a summons to appear before a Court in Northern Ireland contact one of Wilson Nesbitt’s criminal solicitors immediately on freephone 0800 8400549.