NI ruling affects summonses on residents in Republic

Mon, Jul 2, 2012, 01:00

A JUDGE in Northern Ireland has ruled that its courts do not have the jurisdiction to proceed with cases where the defendant is resident outside the UK unless a summons has been served on them through the court.

It had been the practice of the North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to send a summons along with a cover letter directly to people outside the UK, including residents in the Republic.

However, a district judge has ruled this does not accord with the UK’s obligations under international law, which require the person be given assurances they will not be prosecuted for other offences.

The test case was brought after a man with Donegal address and an Irish driver’s licence was caught travelling at 44mph in a 30mph speed zone in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, on February 15th.

A test case was brought as this was the first such case to be brought before Judge Meehan since the PPS started issuing new cover letters to defendants living outside the UK a number of months ago.

The judge said that, since 2009, it appeared the PPS had started posting summonses to defendants living in Ireland.

He said that, up until earlier this year, it had been his practice to strike out all summonses where, as in this case, the defendant did not appear, on the basis that there was no valid proof that a summons had been served.

A senior public prosecutor in the policy section of the PPS contended that the PPS could lawfully serve summonses outside the UK by post. He further contended that, where a defendant acknowledged service by post by pleading guilty, the court had necessary proof of service of the summons.

However, on examining the laws and procedures for service of a summons within Great Britain, the judge found a summons was served personally by the police.

He added that, in such cases, proof of lawful service or proof of evasion of a summons was a pre-requisite to proceeding if the defendant did not appear.

“A person in county Donegal . . . may know of a process against him being before a court in Northern Ireland but that alone is not sufficient,” he said.

In his conclusion Judge Meehan said: “The PPS have been proceeding on the basis that the Northern Ireland rules about the acknowledgement of postal service and pleas of guilty by post can now be treated as applying internationally. They cannot.”

He added the PPS had “taken up their position without, I fear, considering what the Irish State might make of all this.

“That is most unfortunate, for example, in the context of protracted and continuing negotiations aimed at the mutual recognition of penalty points for motorists by Northern Ireland and Ireland.”

Judge Meehan said the court would be able to proceed in the defendant’s absence and without him being served within the UK “only after particular and additional efforts have been made to persuade him to appear”.

He said this could only be the case where the defendant and the Irish State were given “clear and precise assurances” relating to immunity from prosecution for any other offences during the time the defendant was answering the case in the Northern Ireland court.

A spokeswoman for the PPS said the service could not comment on the matter as it was subject to an appeal.