Riigikogu pulls doubling of fines off agenda

Riigikogu.

PHOTO: Peeter Langovits.

Unexpectedly, and as advised by its Legal Affairs Committee, the parliament yesterday removed from agenda the law amendments intended to raise fine units as basis for misdemeanour fines from €4 to eight euros.   

Member of legal affairs committee and IRL, Raivo Aeg said their members desired to meet with representatives of justice ministry ere the final vote day dawns. The representatives of justice ministry would analyse the effect of the fines and prepare proposals on how to structure the system.

Mr Aeg said that as the bill is not urgent time-wise, they decided to postpone the final vote. The plenary supported altered agenda by yes 73 votes, one against and one undecided. Originally, the third reading of the amendment was planned for tomorrow.

Mr Aeg was unprepared to tell when the committee would meet with justice ministry representatives. He did mention, though, that there was no need to delay too long. «Even if the analysis isn’t formulated to completion, we will have an overview of how things stand, and draw the conclusions from that,» said Mr Aeg.

Soc Dems faction head Andres Anvelt reiterated the earlier soc dems stand that Estonia ought to switch to the income-based fining system which among other things is being analysed by justice ministry and which also was supported yesterday by Police and Border Guard Board deputy director-general Joosep Kaasik.

Mr Kaasik said over radio (Vikerraadio’s «Uudis+») that in longer perspective it would be good to link punishments for misdemeanours with people’s incomes as is the practice in places like Finland. He said such system would allow fines which would actually affect the offenders.

Mr Anvelt said the coalition treaty actually includes the so-called fair fine principle and justice ministry has promised to analyse the topic. «We will expect the justice minister to soon come and present the analysis so that in the fall latest we might deliberate at Riigikogu the linking of fines to people’s incomes,» he said according to statement by his party.

Asked by Postimees to specify, Mr Anvelt said that would not mean that the bill pushing up fine rates would have to be postponed till the autumn as well. According to him, the obsolete fine rates need a raise anyway while it is presently a politically becoming moment to agree about the timing of the next stage and the income-fine link.  

The coalition treaty prescribes that the coalition will consider linking misdemeanour fine sizes to income of the offender, his financial situation and number of dependants. Pursuant to the action programme of the government, the analysis of misdemeanour fines sizes and principles ought to have been completed by October last year.  

Mr Anvelt assesses that such a system would much better serve the main aim of fining which is to prevent further infringements. «Fair fines would make our streets safer and penalties more realistic, as well as helping restore the pubic feeling of justice,» said Mr Anvelt, adding that a fine based on income makes both minimal wage earners and high earners consider their ways. In criminal proceedings, this is the practice for over ten years, he noted.

The bill presently proceeded by Riigikogu would boost fine unit from four to eight euros, meaning that an act like walking drunk and without reflector could be penalised by €800. The bill prescribes that the amendment enter into force this coming May.

The plan has been subject to broad-based criticism. Among others, experts passed a largely negative assessment in letter of explanation to the motion, pointing out that already now many people have difficulty paying the fines and that purely by threat of punishment people cannot be coerced into abiding by law.

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COMMENT

by sworn lawyer Carri Ginter 

The sole goal of raising the fine rate is to collect more money. However, till now experience has not even shown to that having much of a positive effect on the budget.

I have not seen scientific research confirming that very high fines would help improve law-abiding behaviour. Why don’t we rather invest in prevention. Fines will not correct what is neglected in upbringing. Essentially, this is chipping people to get more money out of them. In my opinion this is a crazy desire to gauge  and punish people more. This is the stick-upbringing method.

And so part of the people will opt to be arrested as they will no longer be able to pay the fines. If penalties for misdemeanours and crimes become alike, the line between crime and misdemeanour will be blurred as well.

Sure, every speed camera collects extra money for the state; meanwhile, it is questionable if it improves traffic safety or if any traffic death has been avoided thanks to the cameras. 

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