by Chris Griffith
Published 3 December 1995 in The Sunday Mail
The 1994-95 Department of Justice and Attorney-General's annual report said nearly all the money, some $16.1 million, was debt from actions in Magistrates' Courts.
The report said the government last year calculated $88.1 million was owing from court actions over the last five years, but this figure was misleading because it included debts converted to jail sentences and other penalties, and money litigants owed to each other -- not just to the government.
The $16.8m figure, it said, conveyed live, unresolved debts to government.
However shadow Attorney-General Denver Beanland yesterday accused the government of recalculating the figure to hide the true debt. He questioned whether the $16.8 million included compensation and restitution orders in the higher courts.
"You can't collect debts just by rejuggling the figures, someone has to get their hands dirty, go out there, and collect them," Mr Beanland said.
He said it was scandalous the justice system was so poorly resourced it had not collected $16.8 million, and equally scandalous that defaulters were getting away without paying. He said the Coalition in government would trial private debt collection if nothing else worked.
A spokesperson for Attorney-General Matt Foley said the new method of calculation was based on an Auditor-General's recommendation, and the government still intended to collect outstanding debts.
The report also noted the success of a pilot scheme in the Ipswich Magistrates' Court, where the Director of Public Prosecutions has taken over committal proceedings from police.
It said the number of Magistrates' Court cases sent to trial in higher courts had decreased by 28 percent, but the number of cases committed for sentence had risen by 212 percent.