Fixed charge notices debacle: Who is affected and who is not?

Drivers who claimed they never received notices of fines represent a different group

Fixed charged notices, which cover more than 60 road traffic offences which attract penalty points, are not sent by registered mail.  Photograph: Frank Miller

Fixed charged notices, which cover more than 60 road traffic offences which attract penalty points, are not sent by registered mail. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

The revelation that 14,700 people were wrongly convicted of motoring offences having paid fixed charge notices (FCN) has caused widespread concern, as well as some confusion over who exactly is affected.

The debacle is in no way linked to drivers escaping penalty points by claiming in court that they never received their fixed charged notices (FCN) in the postal service.

In recent years, a significant number of drivers summonsed to court over road traffic infringements after they failed to pay the fine in an FCN have made this claim in court.

When that excuse has been offered, some judges have felt obliged to accept it and a large number of cases have been struck out, with the drivers escaping sanction.

Fixed charge notices, which cover more than 60 road traffic offences which attract penalty points, are not sent by registered mail.

There has been some media comment Friday suggesting those people who claimed in court not to have received their FCNs have now been vindicated by the information which emerged Thursday about the wrongful convictions.

This is not the case and the two scenarios are unrelated.

The breakdown in the FCN system resulting in the wrongful convictions first came to light during a court case in April of last year.

It emerged that a motorist who had been summoned to appear before the court had already received a FCN for failing to have an National Car Test certificate for their vehicle and had paid the fine.

Under the FCN system, once the fine for the infringement is paid the matter should automatically conclude, with no need for a court appearance.

Court appearance

However, a breakdown in the system meant that in 146,865 cases motorists who had received their notice in the post and had paid the charge were erroneously still sent a summons to appear in court.

In essence, their cases continued to advance through the legal system when they should have been concluded once they paid their FCN fine.

Of the 146,865 motorists who received an FCN in the post and paid the fine but were still called before the courts, 14,700 were convicted and a penalty imposed by the courts.

And now the Garda must return to the courts and have all of those convictions and court sanctions set aside. They must be appealed because the motorists should never have been summoned to court, never mind convicted.

This does not affect the large number of unrelated cases where motorists claimed in court that they never received the FCN in the post and so were unable to pay the fine. As they never paid the fine, the question of wrongful conviction for payment does not arise.

Looking ahead, however, the controversy will undoubtedly prove fertile ground for future excuses being offered to courts.

For example, drivers who claim that their FCNs never reached them in the post will do so with more credibility in light of the system failings we now know about.

If mistakes go unnoticed for a 10-year period on this scale, it is not exactly stretching credulity to assume some FCNs genuinely do get lost in the post or never make the post at all.