'Grave concern' as just one in 10 people ordered to surrender driver licence complied

'Grave concern' as just one in 10 people ordered to surrender driver licence complied
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The Dáil's spending watchdog has expressed "grave concern" after it emerged that just one-in-10 people ordered to surrender their driver licence actually did so before the Courts.

During a hearing with the Courts Service today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard that the vast majority of people who are convicted and ordered off the road are not surrendering their licences to the courts.

Peter Burke, Fine Gael TD and PAC member, quoted figures produced by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) which said the figures showed that less than one-in-10 have complied with the order of the court.

During very tetchy exchanges between the Courts Service delegation and PAC members, it became clear that a large discrepancy exists between the Courts Service and the RSA over how many licences have been handed over.

In relation to handing up of driving licences, the Courts Service said its figure for people handing over their driver licences is about 33%, or just one third.

But these figures were challenged by several PAC members including the chairman Sean Fleming.

What we are witnessing here is a shambles," Mr Fleming said to Angela Denning, the CEO of the Courts Service.

"This performance here, which is being televised, is a shambles and is probably undermining the administration of justice.

"The message here is most people don't pay fines, don't hand in their driving licences. You don't know who does what or not," Mr Fleming said.

“The RSA has provided figures and have indicated over a six-year period only 12% of those convicted have done so. There is a big, big difference between 12% and 33%,” Mr Burke said.

In response, the Courts Service delegation said work is ongoing with the RSA to try and reconcile the figures.

The committee heard that the Courts measure the court orders issued, which can be appealed, while the RSA track the disqualifications.

The Courts Service said that because of the different methodologies used, there will not always be a match.

But Mr Burke and other PAC members said they had “huge concerns” about the low numbers of people surrendering their licences. He also expressed concern about the failure of the Courts Service to effectively manage and raise concern about this issue to the Government.

Mr Burke was speaking after the Courts Service revealed more than 90,000 fines issued by the Courts, amounting to €27m, have not been paid just three years after laws were changed to stop people going to prison for non-payment.

The Courts' Service accepted the current system “definitely causes problems” and have asked for the minister to change the rules.

“This is at crisis level, this goes to the core of the criminal justice system, this is more than a serious difficulty,” said PAC member Peter Burke when the figures became clear at the committee.

Mr Burke calculated that 72% of debt issued by the Courts Service by way of fines are now outside the terms of the order of the courts.

Courts' Service officials, said it would not be possible to deal with the 90,000 fines overnight as it would bring the courts system to a standstill.

“It is not the collection process, the difficulty is when somebody does not appear in the court, we have no mechanism to make them go into court short of seeking a bench warrant,” said Ms Denning.

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