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Northgate proposes improvements to penalty notice procedure

Northgate Information Solutions : 31 August, 2007  (Technical Article)
Department for Transport graduated fixed penalty scheme with deposit capabilities requires considerably more thought to be enforceable argues Northgate.
Northgate has called for a strong national framework to govern the increasing use of penalty notices in enforcement procedures. In a response to the Department for Transport's consultation on the detail of the graduated fixed penalty and deposit schemes, Northgate said that this was essential if public confidence in the system was not to be undermined.

The introduction of graduated fixed penalties and deposits marks a further extension in the growth of penalty notices which have now become one of the major forms for administering justice in the UK. On a national basis the company believes that there is a lack of consistency governing penalty notices for different offences and infringements which leaves individual citizens and organisations confused by an array of different arrangements, and undermines the administration of justice. The company is campaigning for a Penalty Notice Act to ensure that there is a joined up approach to policy making and assisting in educating the wider public about its community responsibilities under both civil and criminal law.

Commenting on the detail of the proposals in relation to the introduction of graduated fixed penalties and deposits, and new powers of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) to issue fixed penalty notices introduced under the Road Safety Act 2006, Northgate calls for:.

* A national and targeted information campaign aimed at informing operators and drivers of the new system to encourage compliance.

* Training for all VOSA officers who will issue penalty notices.

* Research to be carried out by the Department for Transport on the impact of the penalty notice regime on operators and drivers.

* A twenty four hour system for payment and receipts for all penalty notices issued.

* Automatic transfer of penalty notice information to the Traffic Commissioners to ensure that they have the most comprehensive information in taking decisions about operators.

* Consideration of ring-fencing funds obtained by the system to promote the wider objectives of promoting environmental improvement, climate change, community safety and employee well-being.

* A complete revision of the guidance for drivers and operators.

Ian Blackhurst, Managing Director of Criminal Justice & Public Safety at Northgate Public Services said today:
"Used appropriately, penalty notices can be an effective way of addressing high-volume, low-level criminality, anti-social behaviour and environmental nuisance but their overall impact on the public must be assessed if the system is not to be undermined.

"The penalty notice system is the fastest growing form of administration of justice in this country. They are appealing to policy makers within government departments because they are cheaper than enforcing the law through the courts. But government may pay a higher price if it continues to allow the penalty notice system to grow in an ad hoc and increasingly incoherent fashion."
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