27 January 2015
Minister Fitzgerald appoints Judge Matthew Deery as Independent Oversight Authority for the fixed charge processing system
· “There will be no hiding place for members of the public or of An Garda Síochána if they seek to abuse the system.”
· Cases involving Gardaí seeking to have points cancelled on the basis that they were performing official duties in their own vehicles are now to be referred to DPP for determination
· Gardaí to establish new Enforcement Unit in the Fixed Charge Processing Office
Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minster for Justice & Equality has today published the report of the Garda Professional Standards Unit (GPSU) on the operation of the fixed charge processing system. The report was received by the Minister last week and was considered by Government at today’s Cabinet meeting.
The Minister outlined a number of responses to the Report including the appointment of Judge Matthew Deery, former President of the Circuit Court, to act as Independent Oversight Authority for the fixed charge processing system.
Minister Fitzgerald stated: “Publication of the report delivers on my commitment to ensure public transparency of ongoing examination and review of the operation of the Penalty Points system. I said I would ensure that the findings of the Garda investigation would be made public and today they are being published.”
“While the report rightly highlights areas which are a cause of considerable concern, it also recognises that significant improvements have been made.
“The penalty point system forms an important element of a road safety strategy and I am determined that these improvements will continue and that there will be no hiding place for members of the public or of An Garda Síochána if they seek to abuse the system.”
The Report, which was drawn up at the request of the Garda Commissioner, was conducted by the Garda Professional Standards Unit (GPSU) and examined a total of 667 files. These include files referred through a protected disclosure. The person who made that disclosure was closely involved in the process to examine the issues raised. The issues raised in the protected disclosure have already been referred by the Minister to GSOC for independent examination, and the GPSU report is also now being referred to them.
The Minister thanked the Garda Professional Standards Unit for their thorough examination. She further acknowledged the contribution made by the person who came forward with the confidential disclosure and the Minister expressed her gratitude for their constructive engagement in this process of examining files.
Just under 400,000 penalty points were issued in 2013, the last year for which full year figures are available. The report found that in July-August 2014 the cancellation rate was 3.95%.
Of the 667 cases examined by GPSU, 114 cases have been identified for further investigation. The Minister noted that 107 of these 114 cases dated from before June 2014 when the current Garda policy on operation of the Fixed Charge Penalty System was introduced.
The Minister stated that: “The introduction of new policy last June marked a line in the sand. Since then we have seen full centralisation of decision-making, a clear application process for members of the public, revised guidelines for cancellation, and provision for audit of the decision-making process.”
“For example, of the files identified for further investigation only seven relate to the period during which the new policy has been in place. This is indicative of the new approach now being taken. There are less cases open to question and those that may be are being fully scrutinised.”
The GPSU report further confirms that since the new procedures were introduced only the three individuals authorised to carry out cancellations have in fact carried them out. This is in keeping with the provisions of the new policy. Individual Superintendents are no longer authorised to cancel points.
“The new system whereby only three people can make the decision to cancel points is a radical change to a system which was clearly not fit for purpose. We must ensure that there is confidence in the system. This level of transparency, given the previous issues which have arisen in relation to penalty points is essential.”
The report does identify areas for further attention. A series of recommendations are made to address these.
Minister Fitzgerald stated: “Reforming a system as complex as this one, and which has built up over many years, takes time and ongoing attention. It is clear that many improvements have been made, but there are also further lessons to be learned. I welcome the fact that the Commissioner is moving to take these on board and to further fine-tune this system.”
The Minister welcomed the new arrangement whereby cases involving Gardaí seeking to have points cancelled on the basis that they were performing official duties at the time (an exemption provided in law to Gardaí and other emergency vehicle drivers) will now be referred to the Office of the DPP for determination. The Minister stated “that this will put beyond question the impartiality and fairness of this process.”
Minister Fitzgerald also announced that she intends to appoint Judge Mathew Deery, former President of the Circuit Court, to the new position of Independent Oversight Authority for the fixed charge processing system.
The Authority will be free to inspect at random any fixed charge notice cancellation and report his findings on the operation of the system to the Minister.
The Minister stated “In order to build further confidence and further oversight, I am today announcing the introduction of a further layer of accountability. The appointment of Judge Deery to this new role will add to the safeguards and oversight of the system. This will provide further reassurance that the policies and practices in place are not only fair and impartial, but that they are seen to be so. This is not only in the broad public interest but is also in the best interests of the overwhelming majority of Gardaí”.
Minister Fitzgerald notes the concern raised in the report relating to cases cancelled due to the fixed charge notice being returned having not being delivered through the postal system.
The Minister stated: It is absolutely not acceptable that any person would seek to avoid service of a fixed charge notice.”
“I welcome the plan to establish a new enforcement unit in the Fixed Charge Processing Office which will follow-up on all such cases, reinforcing my objective that there will be no place to hide for those seeking to evade penalty points.”
The Minister further noted that of the 1,011 cases of non-delivery due to postal issues in a two month period, one instance appeared to relate to a Garda member, which has been identified for further investigation.
Minister Fitzgerald also today confirmed that officials of her Department were in consultation with the Department of Transport on possible legislative changes arising from recommendations of the Garda report.
On foot of the examination of the penalty points system by the Garda Inspectorate, a new Garda Directive came into effect from 16th June 2014 incorporating significant changes to Garda fixed charge cancellation policy and oversight, in keeping with the Inspectorate’s recommendations. The new policy is designed to address the concerns expressed by the Inspectorate, the Comptroller & Auditor General and others concerning the operation of the system, with particular reference to arrangements for cancellation of penalty points notices. The new policy includes full centralisation of decision-making, a clear application process for members of the public, revised guidelines for cancellation, and provision for audit of the decision-making process.
On 9 September 2014 the Garda Commissioner wrote to the Minister indicating that she had recently received a disclosure under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 alleging ongoing Garda misconduct in the cancellation of Fixed Charge Notices. The Commissioner referred the matter to the Minister for Justice and Equality with a request that she consider referring the allegations to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) for independent investigation. Minister Fitzgerald referred the allegations to GSOC, under section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, for independent investigation. In addition the Commissioner ordered an internal examination be conducted by both the Garda Professional Standards Unit (GPSU) as well as an internal audit into the system.
The Minister is publishing the Garda Commissioner’s covering letter to her and Volume One of the Report, along with an Internal Audit report which the Commissioner also forwarded to her. Volume Two of the report is not being published, in keeping with the strong recommendation from the Garda authorities, and following consultation with the Attorney General’s Office, as it contains extensive personal information, as well as information which may be the subject of further investigation. The findings of the Report are available at www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PB15000019
Profile of retired Judge Matthew Deery
Retired Judge Matthew Deery retired in September 2014 as President of the Circuit Court having served in that role since June 2005. Judge Deery was called the Bar in June 1972 and was appointed to the Circuit Court in June 1988 where he served in the Midland, Northern and Dublin circuits. As a judge of the Circuit Court he also sat on the Special Criminal Court.