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Judge strikes out charges

Judge strikes out charges

Michael Duffy

A STRING of motorists have gone unpunished for speeding and other offences because of a major weakness in a new national system, highlighted in the Mayo courts.
In a move that could have knock-on effects across the country, Judge Mary Devins struck out several cases in recent weeks due to the poor quality paper in summonses issued through the so-called Fixed Charge Processing System (FCPS). The Mayo Gardaí have backed the judge and are to raise the issue with Garda Headquarters in Dublin.
In recent weeks, Judge Mary Devins has been striking out summonses processed through the centralised system because of the quality of the paper, which rendered the summonses illegible. At Castlebar District Court last week, she said she did not even like handling the summonses such was the inferior quality of the paper. 
As a result of the strike-outs, several Mayo motorists who failed to pay fines issued have gone unpunished for their offences on the county’s roads. Garda Superintendent John Quirke confirmed to The Mayo News that he would be writing to Garda HQ in relation to the matter in the hope of having the issue dealt with.
“I think it is fair to say that the paper on which the summonses are printed is flimsy. It appears to be a print-out from a computer and I will be asking if it is possible to have the the summonses produced on better quality paper,” said Supt John Quirke.
It is understood that Judge Devins is the first judge in the State to raise the issue of the legibility of these summonses. To address her concerns, the State may have to look at changing a national procedure which has only been in existence for six months.
The FCPS is a computer-based system to assist the Gardaí in the processing of fixed charge offences under the Road Traffic Acts. When it was introduced some functions that were previously carried out by the Gardaí were outsourced, including printing and payment collection.
Now, if a motorist is stopped for a speeding, seat-belt or other motoring offence, the charges are processed under the new system, which includes the use of hand-held technology on the roadside. Under the new procedure, a motorist is not issued with a notice at the time of the alleged offence.
Instead, the Garda records details into a hand-held computer or onto a specially-designed notepad and the information is transferred instantly for processing to Dublin. Soon after the driver receives a notice of the offence by post. This notice contains details of the offence alleged and details of how to pay the fixed charge.
However, if the driver fails to pay this fine they are then issued with a summons to appear before the local district court and it is these summonses that Judge Devins has been striking out in recent weeks.