Tuesday, 10 June 2014
Road Traffic Offences
I thank the Minister of State for taking this Adjournment debate regarding fines where people go into court and claim they received summonses in regard to fines they were not aware had been issued. It has been brought to my attention that this has happened on numerous occasions. The matter has been well aired in the media as well. I refer to reports of court cases where people receive a summons in the post which is the first time they realise that, somehow, they had been issued with a fine.
An easy way to solve the problem is to have all of those fines sent by registered post to the offenders. If it is a defence on behalf of the Government that all of these fines are sent out and that people receive them but then claim they never received them in order that the judge will be lenient, it is a fallacy. For the past three years I have dealt with medical card issues and I know the PCARS would almost claim that of the 50% of people who applied for medical cards, it either never received their application or never received supplementary information that was required. Therefore, it is safe to say that mistakes do happen and can happen within the An Post system. It can also be the case that people claim they never received the fine when in fact they did. The easy way to deal with the problem is to issue all of these fines using registered post.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter on the Adjournment. I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality.
When a relevant offence is detected, the registered owner of the vehicle involved receives a fixed charge notice. I know that is stating the obvious but I wish to set out the process. The address to which the fixed charge notice is posted to is either the one supplied by the driver, when intercepted by An Garda Síochána, or the address listed on the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport's national vehicle and driver file or NVDF.
The Minister has been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for enforcement of the legislation, that ordinary post is utilised to serve fixed charge notices, in accordance with section 25 of the Interpretation Act 2005. This provides that service of a document may be effected by post and that such service is deemed to have been effected at the time at which a letter would ordinarily have been delivered, unless the contrary is proved. The Minister is also advised that road traffic legislation provides that, in a prosecution relating to an unpaid fixed charge notice, it shall be presumed that the relevant fixed charge notice has been served, or caused to be served, and that a payment pursuant to the relevant notice has not been made, unless the contrary is shown.
In so far as the use of registered post is concerned, the Minister will convey the Senator's views on this matter to the Garda authorities and to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. However, the Minister for Justice and Equality would note that use of registered post would not overcome objections that notices were received by persons other than those for whom they were intended, or that persons would seek to avoid service by declining to accept such registered notices. There would also be logistical and cost implications associated with issuing what could be more than 400,000 registered letters annually, in circumstances where a majority of persons receive and pay the fixed charge notices under current arrangements with no difficulties.
The Senator will also be aware that section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 2010 will introduce what is commonly referred to as a "third payment option" into the fixed charge system. Under this mechanism a person, who is summonsed to court for a fixed charge offence, will have a final option to pay a fixed charge not later than seven days before the court date on which the charge is to be heard. Without reading the rest of the statement, the central point has been made.
We must acknowledge that mistakes are made and that some people do not receive these fines. I notice from the answer prepared for the Minister of State, by the Department's officials, that it was assumed that people had received their fines. There is nothing definitive about the matter.
In the response it stated that, in some cases, people "would seek to avoid service by declining to accept such registered notices". That is fine but the letter can then be returned to the Department with it noted "refused to accept registered letter". At least the person will have been made well aware that there is a fine and he or she cannot escape that fact. In the past some of these fines were sent by registered post. I speak on behalf of the genuine people who do not get them but are summoned to court, must get a solicitor, get the fine doubled and suffer harsher measures dished out to them. I would appreciate if this matter received serious consideration.