Motorists escaping justice due to summonses not being sent

Many gardaí do not realise summonses must be applied for manually, report finds

 Gardaí inspecting vehicles at a checkpoint on the M1 near Swords, Co Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

Gardaí inspecting vehicles at a checkpoint on the M1 near Swords, Co Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Significant numbers of motorists who have committed road traffic offences, including drink-driving, are escaping the legal system because summonses are not being sent to them, a Garda audit has found.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan are now likely to come under pressure to quantify the “ongoing” problem and also to rectify it.

The offenders in question are not paying fines when a fixed charge notice is initially sent to them. And because the individual gardaí dealing with the cases do not realise they need to then intervene and arrange for a summonses to be sent, the offenders are evading the legal system.

Instead, the prosecuting gardaí erroneously believe a summons will be automatically generated if the fine goes unpaid. The problem is ongoing and the Garda has been unable to determine how many offenders have sidestepped penalty points, fines and the courts in this way.

It means that as well as the near-15,000 motorists having been wrongly convicted because summonses were sent to them in error, significant numbers of motorists who should have received summonses never got them and escaped justice.

The finding is contained in a report by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan into the fixed charge processing system published last evening.

Pursuit

A Garda audit of 63 sample cases, which started last September, found that by December a manual summons had been applied for in only 22. In the remaining 41 cases, no summons had been applied for, which meant the offender did not pay their fine and the legal pursuit of them ended.

“The sample examination showed that some of these offences became statute barred,” Mr O’Sullivan’s report states.

Informed Garda sources said all penalty points cases requiring the issuing of a summons would become statute barred within six months.

The report does not set out the full range of offences for which a manual summons must be applied if the initial fine goes unpaid.

Informed Garda sources said drink-driving offences on the lower end of the spectrum – which attract penalty points, rather than a driving ban – are among those requiring manual summonses if a fine is unpaid.

It was not clear from Mr O’Sullivan’s report why some offences require a manual summons and others involve a summonses being automatically generated by a computer when a fine is unpaid.

The report suggests that in relation to at least some offences “complexities in the summons wording” prevent the summons from being automatically generated.

Confusion

Mr O’Sullivan’s report says that a document called a “manual summons report” is compiled monthly. It is sent to local Garda management in divisions around the State. It is intended to inform them about the cases where the fixed charge notice fine has not been paid and where a manual summons needs to be applied for by the individual garda prosecuting the case.

However, Mr O’Sullivan concludes the manual summons report “remains largely unknown . . . and there still is much confusion about same”.

“An examination by the Garda Roads Policing Bureau indicates that the report is not being accessed or used in some cases,” he adds. “And there are cases where an application for a summons by manual intervention has not taken place.

“It appears a large number of these manual summonses were not acted upon by the prosecuting member...The manual summons report was not being accessed by the district offices and therefore was not being forwarded to the relevant members for their attention...This remains an ongoing issue...”

Mr O’Sullivan notes that while the need to access to act on the manual summons report was set out in a directive sent out to Garda members by Garda headquarters in 2014, it is dealt with in a series of mentions in the middle of the 60-page directive.