Nearly 2,000 drivers were allowed to avoid convictions for speeding offences by making contributions to court poor boxes over a 27-month period, despite legislation banning the practice, new figures show.
More than 37,000 people were before the courts for speeding offences between January 2013 and March 2015. Of those, 17,200 or 47 per cent, were convicted and almost 13,800 cases, more than a third, were struck out.
More than 2,500 cases were dismissed, 533 were dismissed under the Probation Act and almost 50 had no order made. A further 184 cases had the speeding taken into consideration with other offences, and more than 1,100 cases were withdrawn.
Some 1,889 made donations to the poor box instead of being convicted, avoiding fines and the imposition of penalty points on their driving licences.
That figure includes 236 donations in the first three months of 2015, 619 in 2014 and 1,034 in 2013.
The Road Traffic Act 2010 prohibits the application of the poor box to offences that attract penalty points, including speeding, from June 1st, 2011.
Furthermore, in February 2014, in a case taken by a driver who had been refused the use of the poor box after speeding, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan reinforced the law.
He said the District Court “enjoys no jurisdiction to impose an informal sanction, short of actual conviction, such as accepting a donation to the poor box”. He said such a donation would amount to an “indirect circumvention” of the law.
The judgment was circulated to the District Courts a short time later.
Released to Deputy Tommy Broughan by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald as part of a parliamentary question, the figures also show, of the 17,200 who were convicted, only 7,244 had details of their driving licences recorded in court.
The remainder, almost 10,000, did not present their licences, avoiding the imposition of penalty points.
When a person is detected as having driven over the speed limit, a fixed charge notice is issued. If this is not paid within 28 days, the fine doubles, and after 56 days, a summons for court is issued, whereupon the fine is higher and the number of penalty points greater.
The poor box is a non-statutory system, used by judges at their discretion, if it is deemed justified not to impose a conviction on a defendant. A sum of money is lodged in court by the defendant and paid over by the fines office of the court to a nominated charity.
The use of the poor box predates the foundations of the State, and in 2005, the Law Reform Commission recommended it be replaced with a statutory financial reparation order.
Susan Gray, chairwoman of road safety group Parc, said speeding is one of the main factors contributing to fatal and serious road crashes, with victims suffering horrendous injuries as a direct result of speed. The use of the poor box trivialises it and also undermines the penalty points system, which is one of the greatest deterrents against road traffic offences.
She said the organisation is also disappointed that almost 10,000 drivers, convicted of speeding, did not present their licences and avoided the imposition of penalty points.
In response to the parliamentary question, Ms Fitzgerald said a project offering a third opportunity to pay a penalty for speeding, without attending court, was in “technical development”. In addition, “a master driver licence record”, which will associate vehicle and driver records, was also under development.