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Independent watchdog criticises continuing failure of gardaí to provide specific details over requests to cancel penalty points

Gardaí must prove they were exceeding the speed limit as they carried out their duty.

Image: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

AN INDEPENDENT WATCHDOG has criticised gardaí for their continuing failure to provide details of the circumstances why they seek to have penalty points cancelled when detected speeding while on duty.

The retired president of the District Court, Judge Matthew Deery who oversees the process by gardaí of cancelling fixed charge notices issued to motorists, said the problem was persisting, despite the fact that he had previously raised concerns about gardaí not providing specific details why they were seeking exemptions.

In order to have any fine or penalty points cancelled, gardaí detected breaking the speed limit while driving official vehicles are required to provide proof that it occurred in the course of their duty and that such driving did not endanger the public.

In his annual report for 2018 which was completed 14 months ago but only just published by the Department of Justice, the judge remarked: “We are all familiar with the advertisement that ‘speed kills’. Even accidents at relatively low speeds can cause death or injury.”

Judge Deery said he had advised in the past that gardaí should provide specific reasons for breaking speed limits when applying for an exemption.

“Despite this, applications have continued to be submitted merely stating that the garda was on duty at the time and that road users were not endangered,” the judge said.

He added: “If there is an emergency or other good reason to speed that is acceptable”.

A further comment on the issue by the judge has been redacted by the Department of Justice.

A spokesperson said it related to advice received from the DPP and was redacted with the judge’s agreement.

Judge Deery said it might also be necessary to raise the matter directly with Garda management.

He contrasted the situation between gardaí and applications from members of the public to have penalty points cancelled.

The judge pointed out that an application from a doctor who was responding to an emergency where the life of a person was at risk would be considered, while it would be refused if the doctor was travelling to a routine call.

In his fourth annual report, Judge Deery said he was satisfied that there had been “substantial compliance” with the policy and procedures for rescinding fixed charge notices on motorists.

Cancellation system

Decisions on the cancellation of fines and penalty points are now centralised at the Fixed Charge Processing System office in Thurles, Co Tipperary.

The only personnel authorised to cancel fixed charge notices are the superintendent in charge of the office as well as a superintendent or chief superintendent in the Garda National Traffic Bureau.

All applications for exemptions from gardaí driving their private vehicles are referred to the DPP for decision.

The judge said he had carried out a review of a random sampling on decisions and would not disagree with the manner in which authorised gardaí had exercised their discretion on requests to cancel penalty points.

Judge Deery was appointed to the oversight role in January 2015 following a controversy over the widespread cancellation of fixed charge notices by gardaí which had been highlighted by Garda whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson.

Report

A subsequent report by GSOC found over 74,000 notices had been cancelled by gardaí between 2009 and 2012 with almost three-quarters of the total providing insufficient rationale for the decision.

It also found over 440 gardai were authorised to cancel penalty points with one officer rescinding 744 cases across 17 counties.

Judge Deery said the implementation of most of the recommendations made by the Garda Professional Standards Unit had immensely strengthened the system.

The judge said the GPSU had also continued to carry out monthly examinations of random samples of decisions to cancel penalty points.

Welcoming the report, the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, said a working group, which consists of representatives from the Department of Transport, Department of Justice, An Garda Siochána, the Courts Service, the Road Safety Authority, the Office of the DPP and Revenue was continuing to oversee developments in the area of processing of fixed charge notices.

He added: “It remains crucial to maintain independent confidence in the processing system, Judge Deery’s oversight report reinforces public trust in the process.”

Flanagan made no reference to the judge’s criticism of gardaí.

The Department of Justice said publication of the report had been delayed as it had been necessary to consult and seek observations from a number of state bodies including An Garda Síochána and Department of Transport which were not received until the second half of last year.

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Seán McCárthaigh

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