Penalty points report from 2007 was ignored, says author

Claim some gardaí made ‘hometown decisions’ in deciding on whether to cancel points

 File image of a speed  camera mounted on the Stillorgan Road in Dublin. Former chief superintendent John O’Brien has said the biggest issues he identified in the penalty points system were problems in serving summonses to motorists who ignored initial demands to pay fines and take their  points. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

File image of a speed camera mounted on the Stillorgan Road in Dublin. Former chief superintendent John O’Brien has said the biggest issues he identified in the penalty points system were problems in serving summonses to motorists who ignored initial demands to pay fines and take their points. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Fri, Mar 14, 2014, 06:34

The former head of the Garda Traffic Corps who went on to work for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, John O’Brien, has said a report he compiled for the commission in 2007 identified a lot of the now contentious issues with the fixed charged notice system - but was never acted upon.

He suggested some Garda members made “hometown decisions” when deciding whether to cancel penalty points. But he agreed with the view of the chief inspector of the Garda Inspectorate, Bob Olsen, who said while many points should not have been cancelled, the actions did not amount to corruption.

Former chief superintendent O’Brien said the biggest issues he identified were problems in serving summonses to motorists who ignored initial demands to pay fines and take their penalty points.

“They key failure was that the District Court system and the Garda’s summons-serving system was totally overwhelmed by the volume of summons requests that went into it from non-payers,” he said of those motorists who ignored requests to pay fines and whose cases proceeded to the courts as a consequence.

‘Overworked system’

“It results in an overworked District Courts system as it was then, and I’m sure it hasn’t changed greatly,” said Mr O’Brien.

“It just didn’t simply didn’t have the capacity to do it. I remember the president of the District Court saying to me then, ‘Look, we simply don’t have the quota of judges to handle this’.

“In other countries this is done as an administrative process - the non-payers. It’s not done as part of the normal criminal justice system.”

The Garda Inspectorate report into the fixed charge notice system and the cancellation of penalty points under it noted some 70 per cent of all cases resulted in motorists paying their fines for road traffic infringements and accepting penalty points without the matter going to the courts.

The inspectorate agreed with the findings of a Garda inquiry conducted under Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney that under 5 per cent of all cases saw points cancelled.

There remained 25 per cent of cases that were not concluded for a variety of reasons.

One of these was that 52 per cent of the summonses issued in respect of 178,500 cases in 2012 and 2013 were never served.

And even in those cases where summonses were served and the cases went to court, if motorists did not bring their drivers’ licences with them their penalty points could not be added.

There was a system of following up those drivers to tag on the points. The inspectorate said some 60 per cent of motorists who ended up before the courts did not bring their licences and so escaped incurring penalty points.

Mr O’Brien said all of these issues were explored in his 2007 report and recommendations were made to combat the deficiencies.

“It was totally shelved; it was never discussed, never debated,” he said of his report.

“And I think that’s a pity. Not because I did it but because I think it absolutely covers the areas that have surfaced seven years later.

“Essentially, what I said in the report was that there was a very good IT system in place. It was handling and processing something like 400,000 to 500,000 transactions a year, and that’s a complicated system.