A judge has criticised the process used by gardaí to issue speeding fines as "bureaucracy gone mad" and said that district courts have unfairly been targeted for criticism by a government minister for "systemic failures".
Judge James McNulty made the comments yesterday, having ordered the inspector responsible for overseeing the issuing of fixed-charge, penalty notices to appear in Macroom District Court to explain why a retired schoolteacher was prosecuted for not paying a speeding fine, having attempted to do so twice without success.
Last month, Timothy Doherty, aged 63, of Inniskeane, Co Cork, told the court that his first attempt to pay the €80 fine he received for speeding on the N22 Cork-Killarney road on November 16, 2013, was rejected because he did not sign his middle name, as it appears on his driving licence, on the form that accompanied his cheque.
His second attempt to pay the fine, which was increased to €120, also failed. Mr Doherty had sent the original cheque for €80, with a second cheque for €40, but was told he could not use two cheques to pay the fine.
Judge McNulty adjourned the matter to yesterday to allow Garda Insp John McDonald, who heads up the Garda’s fixed charge processing unit in Thurles, to explain why Mr Doherty’s attempts to pay had been “frustrated by bureaucracy”.
In a lengthy submission, Insp McDonald told the court that upon receiving legal advice, gardaí had instructed BillPay, the company hired to handle the payment of speeding fines, to only accept payments in the full name as they appear on the licence.
He said that payments cannot be accepted from more than one cheque, because if one cheque were not to clear, it would result in the part-payment of a fine, which is not allowed under the system.
Judge McNulty described the situation as “bureaucracy gone mad” and said that three private companies are now involved in the issuing of speeding fines — GoSafe, which is the operator of the detection vans, TICo, the mailing company that posts the fines, and BillPay, which handles the fine.
“An Garda Síochána is not a profit-making organisation, GoSafe is. It is a syndicate of an Irish, French and an American company. They are not philanthropic groups, they are in this to make money, a profit from the contract they were given,” he said.
Insp McDonald said that GoSafe are paid a flat rate per allocated shift regardless of how many offences they detect.
“The district courts are getting it in the neck, and are getting some inappropriate criticism for dealing with the systemic failures that are arising from speeding fines. It is quite inappropriate and unfair,” Judge McNulty said, making specific reference to comments made by then-transport minister Leo Varadkar last December.
Judge McNulty struck out the case against Mr Doherty, and said it was the court’s role to protect citizens from any breach of their constitutional rights.
He quoted the Bible and said: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
“What that means is that the Sabbath was made for man to worship, not the other way around. Likewise, I would have thought that the system was here to serve the people, not that the people serve the system. There is no discretion or common sense here.
“This court takes the view that a citizen should not be unjustly or unfairly prevented or frustrated from complying with their civil obligation.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved