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Shane Phelan: 'Majority of drivers who commit a penalty pay fixed charge, but what about 15pc who don't?'

 

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On target: Garda with a speed gun

On target: Garda with a speed gun

On target: Garda with a speed gun

The vast majority of people who commit a penalty point offence pay the fixed charge and avoid having to appear in court.

According to An Garda Síochána, approximately 85pc of people currently avail of one of the three opportunities to pay up.

A fixed-charge notice has to be paid within 28 days. If it isn't paid in that time, the amount due increases by 50pc and there is a further 28 days to pay.

If this second opportunity is not taken, the offender is supposed to be issued with a summons to appear in court.

Since mid-2017 there has also been a "third payment" option. Under this, the motorist can avoid court if they pay the fixed charge plus 100pc. This can be done up to seven days before the date they are due to appear in court.

But what happens to the 15pc of people who don't pay the charge?

Figures released by the Courts Service and published by the Irish Independent today indicate thousands of such motorists are let off the hook because they are never served with the summons to appear in court.

That problems exist with the serving of court summonses is nothing new.

But the fact it remains such a big issue is undoubtedly a source of concern.

One of the key recommendations of a 2014 report by the Garda Inspectorate was that a review be done to find out why so many fixed charge penalty notice summonses were going unserved.

According to the Department of Justice, an internal Garda review found a number of deficiencies, including an inadequate tracking process which places an unnecessary administrative burden on members of the force.

Another problem was that processes varied from station to station.

It said steps were taken to improve administration and enhance recording and supervision and this had led to a notable improvement in summons service.

Further progress is hoped for when mobile devices are rolled out to frontline gardaí later this year.

However, even with these improvements, the rate of summons service is still poor.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan informed Independent TD Tommy Broughan in July that since the third payment option had been introduced, 74,568 people had been summonsed to court for fixed-charge offences, but almost a third of these, some 24,158, were not served within statutory time limits.

It is clear from the new figures that the proportion not served for speeding, at 45.7pc, is much higher than the across-the-board average for all motoring offences.

Just why there is a particular problem serving speeding summonses is not entirely clear. It could be summons service is more successful for offences where gardaí actually stop motorists and take their address details.

In response to queries, the Garda press office said: "While there are a number of different reasons why a summons cannot be served, in many cases the reason is that the person summonsed will have moved from the address provided."

Whether there is more difficulty involved in serving summonses for speeding than for other fixed-charge offences, road safety campaigners say they have had enough and are resisting further speeding reforms, such as graduated speeding fines, until the situation is addressed.

According to one campaign group, Parc, any new speeding laws will not be worth the paper they are written on unless problems such as non-service of summonses, non-recording of licences and poor conviction rates are sorted out first.

Irish Independent