Three out of four people summonsed to court in the first seven months of this year for failing to pay a fixed-charge penalty notice escaped a conviction.
Department of Justice figures show that 32,162 people were summonsed to court for not settling their fine within 56 days. Only 7,977 people were convicted.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald (below) said those figures do not include penalty point offences (which require mandatory court appearances), such as driving without insurance or driving a vehicle while unfit.The conviction rate was as low last year.In 2013, 47,967 people were summonsed for failing to pay their fixed-charge penalty notice, but only 11,055 were convicted, a rate of just 23%.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that the courts service struck out 60,000 driving cases without the defendant in court, because gardaí had failed to serve the summonses.
When a fine is not paid for 56 days, gardaí apply to the Courts Service for a summons and the courts set a date for a hearing. Gardaí must then serve notice of the summons on the defendant.The figures for 2014 were provided following a parliamentary question asked by independent TD, Tommy Broughan.He, in turn, raised the issue with Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe.
Broughan said: “This is a real issue. As the minister knows, the backdrop to it is provided by the road casualty figures for last year which, unfortunately, regressed and are regressing further this year.”
He asked Minister Donohoe what action was being taken to progress the enactment of section 44 of the Road Traffic Act, 2010.
That would allow a person summonsed for a fixed-charge offence to have a final opportunity to pay the charge, of an amount 100% greater than the original penalty, not later than seven days before the court date on which the charge is to be heard.
If the person were to take up the option, proceedings would be discontinued and he or she would not have to attend court.
The minister replied: “Regarding implementation of section 44... we are looking at how two very large and complicated systems come together.
“We have the summons system within the courts, and the fixed-charge processing system operated by An Garda Síochána. The two systems, together, generate hundreds of thousands of notices each year. I am reverting back to the sub-group to emphasise, again, the urgency that must be demonstrated to make this happen.
“However, it must be done within two parameters. First, it must be at an affordable and appropriate cost to the State and, second, the method of implementation developed must be one which does not put at risk the current level of implementation within the system and its current level of effectiveness.”
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