In addition, large numbers of those who faced serious indictable charges, including driving, drugs, sex and assault offences had their cases dropped in the lower District Court.
While the garda at the centre of the Joe Dolan case was criticised by the presiding judge for his non-attendance in court, legal and court sources said there were various reasons for a strike-out.
These include the absence of other witnesses, deals done where an offender pleads to a lesser charge, and cases where the more serious charge is proceeded with while other lesser ones on the summons are dropped.
District Court sources, however, said offences are struck out on a daily basis because of the non-attendance of gardaí. With more than 400,000 offences dealt with annually in the District Court, this is not surprising, one legal source said.
In 2002, in Dublin and Limerick alone, nearly 300 drink-driving summary offences were struck out when they reached the District Court, along with 150 where an accused was charged with dangerous driving. Strike-outs also occurred in 200 serious indictable driving offences, where the accused could have faced a Circuit Court trial and a heavy prison sentence. The figures are revealed following the striking-out of a charge of drink-driving against Joe Dolan after one of the garda witnesses failed to appear in court.
Judge David Anderson, at Portlaoise District Court, criticised the witness after it emerged he was out of the country on holiday. It was the third time the case had become before the judge. While cases that have been struck out can be re-entered, this rarely happens.
Fine Gael justice spokesman John Deasy said of the Joe Dolan case: “I have to agree with the judge, who made it clear the garda’s behaviour was not acceptable. The question is did the garda book his holidays after the date was set and why did he not tell his superior? Mr Deasy said the case comes against a steady erosion of public confidence in the force.
He called on new Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy to deal with the problem.
“He must stamp out this sloppiness, a problem which the DPP recently highlighted in relation to the poor standard of some garda files.”
Across the country, of more than 350,000 lesser summary offences, the majority of some 239,000 that did not lead to prison, fines or community service were struck out. These include vast numbers of minor road traffic offences.