Policing Authority selects auditors to review breathtest errors

Crowe Horwath will examine governance and the standard of training and culture

In March Garda commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan said in March that a review into the issues with the breathtest would be completed within three months. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish  Times

In March Garda commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan said in March that a review into the issues with the breathtest would be completed within three months. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Financial auditors Crowe Horwath have been selected by the Policing Authority to review Garda roadside breath test figures and examine how almost 15,000 motorists were convicted in error over fixed charge penalty fines.

The independent review will take eight weeks and will examine how the issues arose, why the problems did not come to light sooner, and whether the current systems for recording breath tests and issuing fixed charge notice summons are adequate.

The review will look at the police force across the country and examine the supervisory environment, the level and standard of training provided, the IT systems in place, the governance arrangements, and cultural factors in the force that may have contributed to the errors.

The Dublin-based auditors review will include assessing “why the issues did not come to light sooner” and if there was any “deficiencies” in how the problems were handled once they did become known to Garda management, according to documents setting out the report’s scope.

The Policing Authority has also tasked Crowe Horwath with assessing the quality of the internal review into the figures the gardaí are undertaking themselves.

The authority was asked to carry our a review into the issue by then minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald.

Crowe Horwath will be required to “assess whether the quality of the internal work done may be relied upon”, according to tender documents outlining the requirements of the report.

In March, when setting out the scale of the issue, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan said an internal Garda review into the cause of the systematic errors would be completed within three months.

This report has yet to be published and a Garda spokesman said the review is now “expected to be completed towards the end of July”.

In March gardaí confirmed that there had been significant errors in the recording of roadside drink driving breathalyser tests, and in the issuing of fixed charge notices to motorists for driving offences.

Between November 2011 and October 2016, 1.9 million breath tests were recorded on the Garda Pulse system. However, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, which provides and calibrates the equipment for roadside breathtesting said it could only find evidence of 1,058,157 tests being performed.

Alongside that, gardaí have “definitively identified” 8,549 motorists who were wrongly convicted and fined over FCN offences between January 2006 and May 2016, according to a briefing document from the Courts Service sent to the Dáil public accounts committee.

In March gardaí said 146,865 motorists were summoned to court in error over FCN offences such as driving while on a mobile phone, speeding and non-display of a tax disc, and 14,700 of those motorists were convicted and faced penalties.

Briefing documents from the Courts Service said the majority of errors occurred where motorists were not issued a FCN and given a chance to pay their fine, meaning they were summoned to court “without the proper procedures being followed” by gardaí.

The review of motorist convictions by the gardaí, the Courts Service and the Director of Public prosecutions is still underway.

The Policing Authority was set up as an independent body to oversee and inspect the performance and operation of the Garda Síochána in January 2016.

A spokeswoman for the Policing Authority said staff from business firm Crowe Horwath are currently undergoing Garda vetting and waiting to be granted security clearance.

The Irish firm were selected after a tendering process advertised through the Office of Government Procurement’s framework agreement for financial services, which is open to a number of financial services and accounting firms that have been pre-cleared to bid on specialist work contracts.