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Dublin: 6 °C Saturday 29 November, 2014

Damning report finds “inconsistent and widespread” breaches of penalty points policy

The Garda Inspectorate’s report found “no meaningful evidence” of consistent quality management supervision, and no clear policy guidelines.

Updated 22.44pm

A REPORT FROM the Garda Síochána Inspectorate into the penalty points system has found “inconsistent and widespread” breaches of policy.

The inspection was requested by Minister Alan Shatter following allegations of corruption and favouritism in administering the Garda Siochána fixed charge processing system.

The report, The Fixed Charge Processing System, A 21st Century Strategy, was published today by Minister Shatter.

  • Read the full report here

The inspectorate made 37 recommendations for changes and improvements to the system.

It also detailed issues with cancellation of fixed penalty notices, records, taking notes, resources, the use of robotic vans and training.

The Chief Inspector said that the accumulation of successive incremental “fixes” to problems in the system “has resulted in a technically deficient, managerially uncoordinated, inefficient and excessively resourced support system”.

‘Wasteful’

The Inspectorate found that the FCPS (penalty points system) was “fraught with wasteful use of garda and other stakeholder resources in administering the system”.

It found a lack of management oversight “in not implementing required monitoring mechanisms at the operational level, providing training for cancelling authorities and clear policy guidelines for its use”.

Several senior garda officers told the Inspectorate that “if everyone had just followed the manual …we wouldn’t be dealing with this”.

The Inspectorate was told by senior garda staff, that but for the public scrutiny, the extent of the deficiencies within the fixed charge processing system would not have been detected.

It found “inconsistent and widespread breaches of the FCPS policy by those charged with administering it”, as well as “no meaningful evidence of consistent quality management supervision, no training and no clear policy guidelines on its implementation”.

Robot vans

On the use of robot vans in speed detection, the report said it was unclear “what if any significant additional role or function” the vans provide that could not be provided by the Garda Síochána safety camera private contractor.

In essence, the garda robot vans provide no more than a costly supplementary service.

In addition, the speed threshold assignment is at the discretion of the traffic member operating the robot van.

This leads to inconsistent speed thresholds applied by the eight robot vans against the agreed speed thresholds applied by safety cameras nationally.

The Inspectorate recommends that robot vans be re-deployed.

PULSE system

Issues were also flagged around people attending different garda stations with documents after getting a fixed charge notice.

When a person produces the documents at a different station to the nominated garda station, PULSE does not recognise the production of documents.

This means that a summons is incorrectly issued for non-production, requiring the motorist to attend court.

This system failure results in needless administration for both the Garda Síochána and the Courts Service and significant inconvenience for the compliant motorist. Production of documents at any garda station should be recognised by the system

Breach of policy

The report also looked at policy, and said in one case a serious breach of policy was noted in the Assistant Commissioner’s report.

A notice was cancelled using the registered number of a superintendent – two weeks after his/her retirement.

The Inspectorate found no auditing of the cancellation process of fixed charge notices at any level that would have identified these problems.

Cancellation

The Chief Inspector said he was concerned at the “inconsistent application, interpretation and subjectivity of the cancellation of fixed charge notices”.

He looked at the cancellation rates across 110 districts, and said a significant proportion of cases were cancelled in circumstances that do not satisfy system policy.

Discretion

The Attorney General had already advised that it would be of benefit to have best practice policy guidelines and examples in the exercise of discretion in deciding on cancelling fixed charge notices.

But this advice was not acted upon.

The Inspectorate believes that had the Garda Síochána taken account of the Attorney General’s legal advice in 2006, it is reasonable to assume that the policy may have been implemented as intended.

There was an inconsistent approach from 113 cancelling authorities, making subjective decisions, without training or clear policy guidelines.

In reviewing most of the districts, the Inspectorate found poorly-maintained cancellation files, with no audit process present.

Incidents

The report also outlines some examples of incidents involving gardaí receiving fixed penalty notices.

In one incident, while driving their own private car, the member placed themselves on duty, outside of rostered hours without prior sanction to attend the station where an offender was being questioned. No documentation sanctioning the use of the member’s private car for official purposes was made available or prior sanction that the member was rostered on duty.

In another incident one notice was cancelled by a superintendent outside of the district in which the offence occurred – which was a breach of policy.

Repeat offenders

The report looked at the level of repeat offenders submitting requests to different district officers for the cancellation of fixed penalty notices, which meant they avoided their multiple offences being detected.

In reviewing a sample of cancellation files, the Inspectorate observed no evidence where the district officer reviewed the FCPS for previous FCNs cancelled.

Recommendations

The report recommends overhauling the entire penalty points system.

Other recommendations include:

  • The cancellation authority for fixed charge notices to be centralised in the Fixed Charge Processing Office, Thurles
  • A single Garda Síochána Unit to undertake regular audits of the full operation of the FCPS
  • A review of the summons service process be undertaken to ascertain the reasons for the significant level of unserved summonses
  • Cancellation of a fixed charge notice only to be considered where the petition is accompanied by factual third party evidence supporting the reason for cancellation. Where a petition is not accompanied by factual third party evidence the petition is to be denied
  • The Inspectorate proposes the introduction of a modern multi-functional, user-friendly hand-held device capable of capturing all required data.

The report also said a “rigorous audit process is required to restore public confidence in the processes and systems of managing” the penalty points system.

First published 18.44pm

Read: ‘Do the honourable thing’: Shatter told to apologise to Maurice McCabe>

Read the Garda Inspectorate’s damning penalty points report, in full>

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