By David Millward |
They risk being caught up in plans to recoup almost £1billion in outstanding fines and court orders imposed for criminal offences as well as driving ones.
Ministers are examining whether to use powers to track the travel plans of everyone leaving the country under a system known as e-Borders to deal with the problem of unpaid fines.
As disclosed by The Daily Telegraph, the scheme will track anyone leaving Britain including day-trippers, leisure sailors and even channel swimmers.
The idea of using the system to detain fine defaulters is contained in an “Explanatory Memorandum” to the Immigration and Asylum Act prepared by the Home Office.
It says that e-Borders could help recoup millions of pounds of unpaid fines, and make it easier to enforce the confiscation of criminals’ assets following a court order.
“Whilst not a key e-Borders priority, e-Borders could also contribute to compliance on fine enforcement, if provisions were issued prohibiting travel overseas whilst fines remained unpaid and confiscation orders undischarged.”
The memorandum continues: “There are totals of £487 million in outstanding fines and £300 million in unpaid confiscation orders.
“It is important to note that in order to minimize the number of interventions at ports, in this context, the police will be mounting an awareness campaign in partnership with other parts of government and the courts to encourage discharge of fines and will use the data collected through e-Borders to support enforcement activity at ports and elsewhere.”
A Home Office spokesman said that the proposals would apply to any unpaid fines issued by the courts, including for speeding and motoring offences as well as those for general crime.
It is anticipated that such powers would be used when substantial arrears have been accumulated.
In the case of parking fines, these provisions would be triggered when the debt becomes the subject of an order issued by Northampton County Court.
The court, which is close to one of the main firms of debt collectors, is used by around 200 local authorities to pursue motorists who have not paid their parking fines.
A Home Office spokesman confirmed that Northampton County Court, which issues around a million orders against motorists, a year would be included in any scheme.
The willingness of the Home Office to contemplate using such powers to enforce parking fines has alarmed motoring organisations, however.
“Somewhere a line has to be drawn between pursuing people for minor offences and those which are more serious,” a spokesman for the AA said.
The plans were also condemned by Liberty, the human rights campaign group.
“Any attempt to expand passenger databases or to ban people from leaving the UK without compelling security justification would be a legal and political minefield, said Isabella Sankey, the organisation’s policy director.
“Surely the Government must wake up to the wide public concern about personal privacy and disproportionate administrative control.”
Chris Grayling, the Tory Home Affairs spokesman, also voiced some concern.
“I am in favour of using innovative methods to ensure that people pay their fines,” he said.
“My only worry is that it could become so complicated that we will not be able to control our borders properly.”
Asked how the Government justified using the extensive powers contained in the scheme to tackle fine defaulters, a Home Office spokesman replied: “e-Borders allows us to secure the UK’s Borders by screening people as they travel in and out of the UK.
“It has already screened over 82m passengers travelling to Britain, leading to more than 2,900 arrests, for crimes including murder, drug dealing and sex offences; e-Gorders helps the police catch criminals attempt to escape justice.”