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‘Wait and see’ on drink fines

By Stephen McVey

Local residents are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to the news that Justice Minister David Ford is introducing an on-the-spot fine for being drunk in public. Two levels of penalties will be given from 6 June that could cost drinkers considerably more than a taxi and a kebab on their way home.

However leading community representatives fear that the legislation will  simply not be enacted, as has been their complaint in other scenarios.

Sylvia Roberts of the Lower Malone Residents’ Association said they welcomed the news but would wait and see how the new law would be enforced in practice.

“There are already ‘No drinking’ signs in the area, which threaten a £500 fine for drinking on the streets but have been informed that not a single fine has been handed out as a result of these signs in Lower Malone,” said Slyvia.

“We are worried that the same will happen with this new law.”

A fine of £40 applies to indecent behaviour, urination in the street and public drunkenness, whilst an increased fine of £80 will be handed out for disorderly behavior, criminal damage or theft.

The idea behind the plans will be to lower the amount of alcohol related cases that are taken to court.

Mr Ford said:   “Fixed penalty notices are about delivering speedy, effective and proportionate justice responses to a range of low level offences”

Police officers will have the power to issue fines to first time offenders covering a range of designated offences. It is expected that new powers will result in 1,500 fewer people going to court each year.

PSNI Assistant Chief, Constable George Hamilton welcomed the introduction of fixed penalty notices.

“The PSNI have clarified that the penalty will be offered to individuals as an alternative to other courses of action including arrest.

“If you accept a penalty notice you must either pay the full amount or request that the matter be heard by a court within 28 days of the date of issue. The penalty notice explains how to pay the penalty or request a court hearing.”

By accepting immediate fines, offenders can avoid a criminal record – but by declining the notice, their case will then be reported to the Public Prosecution Service

It is still unclear how varying levels of drunkenness will be measured or in what areas the fines will be imposed.

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