Topical Issues Debate - Tuesday 11th December 2012 - The termination of Motoring Offences by members of An Garda Síochána - Deputies Clare Daly, Mick Wallace and Joan Collins - Reply by Mr. Alan Shatter T.D., Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence
Check Against Delivery
As the issues raised by the three Deputies relates to the same topic I propose to take the three together.
I am conscious that this very same issue was also raised by way of Oral Parliamentary Questions by two of the Deputies concerned, as well as a Priority Parliamentary Question by Deputy MacLochlainn, which I responded to earlier today. There will, therefore, be little, if indeed anything, I can say on the matter which has not already been covered in my responses to those Questions.
The allegations referred to by the Deputies are not that some people have had penalty points written off, but that in a number of cases members of the Garda Síochána have inappropriately cancelled fixed charge notices, mainly for speeding. The allegations appear to be made on the basis of records of cancellation on the Garda PULSE system.
Fixed Charge notices are an alternative to prosecution, and give a motorist the opportunity to acknowledge the offence, pay the fixed charge and, where the offence is a penalty point offence, incur the appropriate penalty points. If the motorist does not pay the Fixed Charge, he or she will in the normal course be prosecuted for the alleged offence.
With regard to the cancellation of Fixed Charge Notices, it appears from media reports of recent days, and comments made in Dail Eireann, that there is an assumption that any termination of a Fixed Charge Notice is illegal and that any individual who is the recipient of such notice which is subsequently cancelled is being afforded special treatment. Both assumptions are incorrect. I am concerned that the outcome of the investigation being conducted into the allegations is being unfairly prejudged and I would urge caution in this regard.
Following the introduction of fixed charges An Garda Síochána established a policy and procedures on the termination / cancellation of fixed charge notices, set out in the Fixed Charge Processing System Full User Manual Policies and Procedures Third Edition 2005. In essence the policy and procedures provides authority to District Officers / Inspector Acting District Officer and the Inspector Fixed Charge Processing Office to cancel Fixed Charge Notices with the policy and procedures framed around legislative exemptions contained in road traffic legislation and Regulations, in conjunction with the specific guidelines issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The cancellation policy also seeks to reflect the Director of Public Prosecutions guidelines for prosecutors as well as the Garda Declaration of Professional Values & Ethical Standards, both of which govern other factors that adhere to the principles of fairness and proportionality, and which set out that in pursuing their public duties Gardai are required to adhere to the principles of legality and apply the law in a manner that is fair, equitable and appropriate to the particular circumstances of individual cases. In essence termination or cancellation occurs where it is believed the evidence would not sustain a prosecution or a prosecution would not be appropriate, fair or proportionate.
Gardai at the rank of Superintendent/District Officer or Inspector Acting District Officer therefore have discretion to authorise cancellation in appropriate circumstances of Fixed Charge Notices. These can include situations where, for example, exemptions apply in relation to emergency vehicles or there is a medical certificate relating to the wearing of seatbelts, or where there are evidential difficulties, such as where the registration number registered by a speed camera does not correspond to the vehicle in question, or where there are emergency medical circumstances such as, for example, a sick child being driven to hospital, an imminent birth, a medical professional rushing to a sick or elderly patient. Access to terminate a Fixed Charge processing incident through 'Pulse' is restricted to users with a rank of Inspector or higher.
I can confirm that these allegations were forwarded to my Department by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in September, and, subsequently, by the Department of the Taoiseach also in September. Following consideration of the documentation the allegations were forwarded to the Commissioner in October last.
The Garda Commissioner appointed an Assistant Commissioner to conduct an examination and to report on the allegations. I have received an interim report from the Commissioner, but I will not be making any comment on any of the allegations until the final report is available.
I understand from the Commissioner that in the 3.5 year period 1/1/2009 - 30/6/2012 there were a total of 1,460,726 Fixed Charge Notices (FCNs) issued. The documentation forwarded to the Commissioner contained 402 allegations. An examination of the allegations did identify duplicated allegations, reducing the actual allegations listed to 197. While many of the allegations listed were specified specific incidents, some mentioned incidents without giving any details and several are not quantifiable as they are quite vague, merely citing ‘hundreds’ of cases. Allegations which can be followed from the information supplied will be examined.