Saturday 29 April 2017

Explainer: Everything you need to know about the penalty points blunder

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)

Kathy Armstrong

A staggering 14,700 were wrongly convicted of motoring offences after they weren't given the opportunity to pay a Fixed Charge Notice, it has emerged.

An Garda Síochana have released a lengthy statement explaining how 14,700 people were wrongly convicted of driving offences and what measures are being put in place to help those affected.

Here's all you need to know about the controversy:

1. What is a Fixed Charge Notice?

A Fixed Charge Notice (FCN) is issued to a person who a member of An Garda Siochana has reasonable grounds to believe breached Section 103 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, it can be delivered in person or by post. Over 10.5 million FCN have been issued since 2006.

2. How did this all kick off?

In December 2014 failing to have an NCT became a FCN, from then on no summons could be issued unless the driver has been issued with a FCN and subsequently failed to pay it. In February 2016 it emerged Garda Information Services Centre became aware of an issue regarding summonses for NCTs and ordered members to stop issuing them for this specific offence.

Two months later, in April 2016, a person appeared before court after being summonsed for not having an NCT Certificate, it emerged that they had already paid a FCN. As a result Gardai launched a preliminary review to determine how this happened.

Under 'microphone' fire Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, handling the media.
Under 'microphone' fire Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, handling the media.

3. What did the initial probe discover?

The initial probe found 759 cases where a person had paid a FCN for not having a valid NCT Cert and then been summonsed to court.

4. So, what happened then?

The investigation was widened to include all fixed charges offences and 1,130 cases were found where summonses had been issued for offences where the person had already paid the FCN. The Assistant Commissioner,  Roads Policing and Major Event/Emergency Management decided to carry out an extended review to see if there were any issues regarding the operation of the FCPs, it was carried out in conjunction with Garda IT.

5. And...?

From an examination of 830,687 summonses, which were issued between January 2006 and May 2016, they found 146,865 were brought before the court incorrectly - in other words when the person was given a summons without being given a chance to pay an FCN - 14,700 of these cases resulted in a penalty being imposed.

6. What were the main offences relating to the summonses?

The main offences relating to the 146,865 summonses are set out below:

Non Display Of TAX Disc (Use) - 68,664

Non Display Of Insurance Disc - 42,462

Use Vehicle without NCT - 4,511

Learner Driver Failing to Display ‘L’ Plates on a vehicle - 1,000

Non Display Of Insurance Disc Owner - 6,782

Driving Without Reasonable Consideration - 5,932

Failing To Stop For Garda -  3,658

Driving Past A Red Traffic Light - 1,903

Holding a Mobile Phone While Driving - 1,217

Other offences: Speeding, Lighting, bus lanes, Parking offence - 10,729

7. What's happening now?

An Garda Siochana spoke to the DPP and the Court Services about how to address incidents where a penalty has been issued and these cases will be brought before the Courts and requested that the convictions are set aside. An Garda Siochana are also writing to all those affected to explain what happened and outline how they plan to rectify the situation. Any fines will be reimbursed and all records will be corrected.

8. Any reason how this could have occurred?

Gardaí explained there are multiple reasons why the situation occurred:

  • The measurement from the breath testing device wasn't being read properly by Gardai before April last year, there was also no correlation between roadside breath tests returned entered on PULSE and the paper based returns as part of the monthly device test.
  • Paper records for these monthly device tests were not retained by An Garda Siochana.
  • Scheduled MAT Checkpoints were created on PULSE in advance but the results of the checkpoint may not be recorded until days afterwards, because of this inadequate record keeping updating the MAT Checkpoints was based on estimated rather than factual returns.
  • Instructions issued in the  2011 Garda Professional Standards Unit to include MAT Checkpoints weren't fully implemented.
  • Based on data from last year less than half of MAT Checkpoints are performed due to different reasons - as a result each cancelled incident is now recorded on each PULSE incident

9. Anything else?

A dedicated support service for those affected has been set up for anyone who has any queries, to get in touch email FCN.Helpline@garda.ie

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