Errors identified in 8,500 motorist fixed-charge convictions
Prosecutions initiated by gardaí ‘without the proper procedures being followed’
The first batch of appeals to refund motorists fined and convicted in error will begin in Dublin Circuit Court next Wednesday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The first of nearly 9,000 appeals by motorists who were wrongly convicted and fined for fixed-charge driving offences will begin in courts across the country from next week, the Courts Service has told the Oireachtas.
In a briefing document sent to Dáil Éireann Public Accounts Committee, the Courts Service said officials investigating the controversy have “definitely identified” 8,549 cases where motorists had been convicted by the courts in error.
Last March, the Garda Síochána accepted that 147,000 motorists had been wrongly summonsed to court for road traffic infringements after they had already paid fixed-charge notices (FCN), though it then put the number of wrongful convictions at 14,700.
However, the analysis of convictions between January 2006 and May 2016 for fixed-charge offences include speeding, mobile telephone use, non-display of tax etc is ongoing, and “further convictions at issue may be identified”, said the Courts Service.
The first batch of appeals to refund motorists fined and convicted in error will begin in Dublin Circuit Court on Wednesday, July 19th, but they will be followed by cases at other sittings of the Circuit Court.
The motorists affected will not have to pay for legal representation themselves, since they will be represented by State solicitors and by the office of the DPP. If the appeals are successful individuals will be issued refund cheques, the document stated.
The appeals relate to motorists who did not received a fixed-charge penalty notice but were summoned to court for an offence, as well as a small number who had paid their FCN fine and were still summoned to court and convicted for an offence.
An analysis of motoring convictions stretching back over the last 10 years, ordered after the controversy emerged, is being undertaken by the Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) office, and the Courts Service.
The Courts Service briefing document said some motorists were not given the opportunity to pay a FCN, and prosecution was initiated by gardaí “without the proper procedures being followed”.
The Garda and the DPP have had to contact each individual motorist to receive their consent to appeal their case and seek a refund, though problems have emerged in cases where people appealed a wrongful conviction, and lost.
Faced with this issue, the Garda, the Courts Service and the DPP are examining how those cases can be opened up again and how those individuals can have their convictions overturned.
Motorists should have been given two months to pay their fixed-charge fine, but this timeline was not followed by gardaí and prosecutions were initiated before the two month period expired in some cases.
The vast majority of reviewed cases cover motorists who did not receive a FCN but were summonsed: “There was however a small number where a fixed-charge notice was issued and a summon for the offence was also issued erroneously” said a Garda spokesman.
The Garda first became aware of a problem with the issuing of summonses in February 2016 concerning a case involving the national car test. The bulk of the 146,865 wrongly issued summonses related to the failure to display a tax disc (68,664) or insurance disc (42,462).
The Department of Justice was notified in June 2016. There were contacts between the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Garda in July and November 2016. In March, the DPP advised that any convictions obtained on the back of the wrongful summonses must be appealed to the Circuit Court.
Then, it was thought the State would face a legal bill amounting to tens of millions of euro arising from the prosecuted cases, which gardaí admit should never have proceeded following the payment of FCN by the motorists involved.
On top of the basic cost of lodging appeals, people who experienced material loss attached to their wrongful conviction, such as increases to insurance premiums or loss of employment, may seek to sue for damages. Since then, a process has been put in place to stop summons being issued for a FCN relating to a road-traffic offence.